Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Coraline

Moving right along with Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch a movie I own, and blog about it.  This one is in my notes at October 29, 2017, which is why it mentions Halloween being right around the corner.  And what movie did I watch to get me in a Halloween mood?  Coraline.

Well, Halloween is right around the corner, and I was looking for a movie to get me in the mood.  Granted, I'm not much of a horror movie guy, but there's lots out there that fit the Halloween mood without being horror.  After I finished the required viewings of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Toy Story of Terror, I started going through my usual suspects.  Ghostbusters, the Nightmare Before Christmas, and then I stumbled across Coraline, and realized I hadn't watched it in a while.  So, Coraline it was!

Coraline was one of those films where I remember reading about its development online for a really, really long time.  My friends were all really into the works of Neil Gaiman at the time, so I was keeping an eye open for anything Gaiman related.  And then I stumbled across the story that Gaiman had a new children's book coming out called Coraline, and that the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas Henry Selilck was already in talks to do a film version.  As the story goes, Gaiman is a big fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas, so he sent Selick an advance copy of Coraline, saying that he felt Selick would be the right guy to adapt it for the big screen.  Selick agreed, snatched up the movie rights, and we were off to the races. 

As I understand, Gaiman did have a lot of input on the film version, frequently providing Selick with input as Selick hammered out the screenplay.  Again, as the story goes, upon reading Selick's first draft, Gaiman said to Selick, "Umm...you know, there is such a thing as being too faithful to the book."  Allegedly, Coraline was just wandering around talking to herself for a good deal of the film to deliver her thought and exposition, and Gaiman said it would be a lot better if Colarine had someone to talk to.  So, Selick created the neighbourhood boy of Wybie. 

The ideas I read over the years as to how the film was progressing.  Originally, it was going to be a musical, with songs by They Might Be Giants.  Because, as Selick explained, in the early-2000s, with the Disney Renaissance still fresh in everyone's minds, the conventional wisdom was than an animated film had to be a musical.  But, as development progressed, they eventually decided to not make it a musical, and the only They Might Be Giants song that remains is the song that the Other Father sings to Coraline. 

I also read that the film was going to boast both CGI and Selick's trademark stop-motion animation.  The scenes in the real world were going to be CGI, and the scenes in the Other Wold were going to be stop-motion.  But, after a few test shots, they found the stop-motion and the CGI looked too similar, and the hoped-for contrast just wasn't there.  So they ditched the CGI and made it all stop-motion animation.  Although, upon the film's release in the spring of 2009, and thanks to the existence of the CGI test footage, there was a pretty rampant conspiracy theory that the film was CGI and just rendered to look like stop-motion. 

Somewhere between when I first heard about the film in 2002 and when it came out in 2009 I got around to reading the book.  My sister was studying to get her Bachelors of Education and had to read it for a children's literature course.  Said it creeped the hell out of her.  So, I borrowed her copy and gave it a go.  It's is a children's novel, after all, so for a grown-up, it's a pretty easy read.  But I liked it.  I remarked to a friend of mine how it kind of reminded me of the Japanese animation classic Spirited Away.  They both have the same basic plot:  young girl moves to a new town, discovers a mystical and magical land, her parents soon become trapped in that land, and she has to engage in a battle of wits with the witch who rules that land to save her parents.  However, thanks to the cultures and traditions they grew out of, the two are wildly different stories.  Spirited Away comes from Japanese mythology, Coraline from British Gothic horror. 

Coraline has just moved to a new town, and she's having difficulties settling in.  Her parents are too focused on the move and their jobs that Coraline is starting to feel overlooked and neglected.  She begins exploring her new home -- a massive house that's been converted into apartments.  The eccentric old man Mr. Bobinsky lives upstairs, and the retired actresses Mrs. Spinks and Mrs. Forcible who live downstairs.  Yeah, in one of those, "Oh my God, I can't believe this is a kids movie" moments, we quickly learn that they weren't really actresses...they were burlesque dancers.  And we get to see their show later on. 

While exploring, Coraline soon finds an old door in the living room, wallpapered over.  Behind this door, she finds a portal to the Other World.  In there is an exact replica of her house, and it seems to be her ideal existence.  Her Other Mother and her Other Father dote on her.  The Other Wybie can't speak...however, the neighbourhood stray cat can, and he explains that all is not as it seems in this world.  Coraline soon begins to clue in when the Other Mother says Coraline can stay in this paradise forever...all she has to do is sew buttons over her eyes.  Finding the ghosts of other children the Other Mother has stolen away, and when the Other Mother kidnaps Coraline's parents, Coraline is soon engaged in a battle of wits with the Other Mother to escape this world. 

This film really has a lot going for it.  The stop motion animation is great.  The design is great, with the real world being appropriately drab, and the Other World being bright and colourful, with the Other World slowly starting to deteriorate as the Other Mother's plans start coming to light.  But what always stands out for me is that music.  Composer Bruno Coulais did some stellar work.  It's perfect for going for a walk on a misty morning. 

Coraline was the first product out of Laika Studios, which went on to create such other supernatural stop-motion kids films as ParaNorman and Kubo and the Two Strings.  I kinda regret not seeing Kubo when it came out, as it looked so good and got such great reviews.  Laika Studios has a bit of a controversial history.  It was originally Will Vinton Studios, whose trademark claymation gave us the California Raisins.  But then, Nike founder Phil Knight figured he wanted to get into animation, so he bought Will Vinton Studios, fired Vinton, put his son in charge, and re-named it Laika. 

Anyway, I'm rambled out.  Coraline is good, and is creepy enough to put you in a good  Halloween mood.

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