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Well. Okay. Here we. go. Coraline.
Coraline the movie begins with Coraline the girl and her parents moving into their new home, a dingy apartment in a dilapidated mansion in the middle of Buttfuck Nowhere, Oregon. Coraline is a blue haired eleven year old voiced by Dakota Fanning, the precocious slightly eerie blonde child actress who appeared in absolutely everything before Saoirse Ronan killed her and took her place, thus continuing the great circle of life. First thing that struck me was the animation. This is directed by Henry Sellick, who also directed Nightmare Before Christmas which was an absolutely amazing achievement in stop-motion. Coraline makes Nightmare Before Christmas look like the Plonsters.
It is without a doubt the most beautifully fluid stop motion animation I have ever seen.
Good. It makes me feel good. Coraline goes exploring her new neighbourhood which is the kind of colour bleached barren wasteland that you expect to find tramps arguing about whether they should keep waiting for someone who may be God but probably isn’t. While searching for a hidden well, she runs into Wybourn (Robert Bailey Junior), whose grandmother owns the Pink Palace, which amazingly is not the local brothel but rather the mansion where Coraline and her family have just moved in. Wybourn is a little…odd…but he shows her the well, saying it’s so deep that if you fell down and looked up you’d see a sky with stars in the middle of the day. Not sure exactly what that means but it sure sounds pretty and why yes, this movie is based on a novel by Neil Gaiman. She also meets Wybourn’s black cat, though he’s quick to point out that he doesn’t actually own the cat, and that he just feeds it and sometimes it brings him “dead things”.
Wybourn tells Coraline that he’s surprised that his grandmother rented the Pink Palace to her parents, as she normally doesn’t rent to people with children. Coraline asks why and Wybourn says he’s not supposed to talk about it and Coraline, grab him now and beat it out of him because I guaran-damn-tee you that is some vital information he is withholding there. Wybourn’s grandmother calls him away and Corlaine returns home. We now meet Mel Jones, Coraline’s mother who’s voiced by Teri Hatcher. Coraline asks her mother if she can go outside and do some gardening but Mel says no because it’s raining and rain equals mud. Coraline points out that it’s a bit odd that her mother is a gardening writer and hates mud but Mel is all “So I contradict myself, I am vast, I contain multitudes”. Mel then says that someone left a package for Coraline and she unwraps it to find a little doll of herself with buttons for eyes.
Yeah, Coraline is supposed to be this smart, resourceful protagonist but I’m not buying it. How smart can she be when she stays after that? I mean, this is clearly turning into one of those campfire stories whose last sentence begins with “And written in blood on the wall were the words…”. In fact, let us now meet the real hero of this movie; Coraline’s father, Charlie Jones voiced by John Hodgman (you’re welcome). Charlie is a man who simply wants to write, but is perpetually being distracted by the constant demands of his wife and daughter.
Coraline heartlessly pesters her poor father despite that fact that he just wants to
finish the damn Lilo and Stitch review write his gardening article. Using both cunning and resourcefulness, Charlie dispatches the little time-thief by sending Coraline to take an inventory of the house, counting all the doors and whatnot (genius, gotta remember that one) and goes back to writing “ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES CHARLIE A DULL BOY” five hundred times. While exploring, Coraline discovers a tiny door hidden behind the wallpaper and nags her mother into unlocking it. Mel finally does, digging out an odd little button-shaped black key from the kitchen drawer which she knows opens the hidden door because look, a bird!
Mel opens the door for Coraline, and all the while the little Coraline doll just…watches.
Nervous. It makes me feel nervous. But once Mel opens the door there’s nothing there but solid brick. Disappointed, Coraline goes to bed, and puts the little doll on a stool where it can watch her while she sleeps because hey, why not? Who wants to live anyway?
Coraline wakes up in the middle of the night to see a mouse on her bedroom floor (funny story, I actually dated that mouse in college for a few weeks. Her name was Stacy Lillenbeck. Great fun, but fucking crazy.) Coraline chases the mouse downstairs and through the little door which is now somehow unblocked. Coraline follows the mouse through the door only to find that the mouse has vanished and she is now lost in another world with no idea how she got there and no way of getting back (and that is just so Stacy). Coraline finds herself in a house that is seemingly identical to her own only classier. Following the smell of something delicious from the kitchen she walks in and sees someone who she thinks is her mother but who then turns around and ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Lord.
This is the Other Mother, also voiced by Teri Hatcher and I’m going to say that with the possible exception of Judge Doom she is the most terrifying villain of any children’s movie I have ever seen. She’s even scarier than the Horned King, who I remind you is not merely a fictional character but an actually real-life malevolent being of pure evil that nearly killed me. That’s how scary she is. Partially it’s the character design (those button eyes…blind yet always watching) but mainly it’s Teri Hatcher’s performance. Honestly, I haven’t seen Teri Hatcher in a lot. I used to watch Lois and Clark and I’ve seen a few episodes of Desperate Houswives. She’s one of the all time great Lois Lane’s definitely but I have to say I wouldn’t have pegged her as a fantastic voice actress from anything I’d seen her in previously. But here, damn she is fantastic. As both Mel and the Other Mother she brings a real depth and range to her performance. The Other Mother’s chipper facade is chilling in it’s own way, but later in the movie when she gets to bring out the rage and even the loneliness that forms the core of the character, just sterling work. Coraline, upon seeing the buttons says “You’re not my mother!”
The Other Mother laughs and tells her to get her Other Father and tell him that dinner is served. Coraline goes into the study and sees her Other Father, who instead of writing is composing on the piano. The Other Father is voiced by John Hodgman (you’re welcome) and, okay look. There’s a lot of other “other” characters in this so just take it as read that they’re voiced by the same actor as their real world counterpart or we’ll be here all day. Anyway, the Other Father plays Other Father Song, which was one of several songs written for the movie by They Might be Giants because the movie was originally going to be a musical. And…I have no idea how that would have worked. That’s like hearing that the Blair Witch Project was originally going to be a slapstick comedy about three hikers and their talking chipmunk pal. The song however is really good, and if they were only going to save one of TMG’s songs, I’m glad it was this one. Coraline and the Other Parents sit down to a roast dinner. This scene basically tells us everything we need to know about the Other Mother’s world; that it’s superficially nicer and more affluent but nonetheless filled with people who are eerily fake and artificial, kinda like Dublin’s southside.
After dinner, the Other Mother asks Coraline if she wants to play a game but Coraline says she should probably get back to her other mother. The Other Mother says “but I’m your Other Mother” and Coraline says “No, my other other Mother.”
The Other Mother then puts Coraline to bed and she wakes up back in her old room the next morning. She runs to the small door but it’s bricked up as before. Disappointed, Coraline goes outside and finds a load of parcels on the doormat addressed to Bobinski, the russian gymnast who lives upstairs and who for some reason looks like a Blue Meanie. No explanation is ever given in the movie as to why he’s blue but he is wearing the medal given by the USSR to those who served in the Chernobyl cleanup so maybe that’s why (even though that is completely scientifically inaccurate).
Bobinski claims to be training performing jumping mice (the packages are sweet, sweet delicious cheese) and gives Coraline a message from the mice; Don’t go through the little door again. That little bit of ominous business done with, Coraline pays a visit to Mesdames Spink and Forcible, two retired burlesque dancers who live in the basement with an army of Scottish Terriers. Spink and forcible are voiced by British comedy legends Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. They read Coraline’s tea leaves and warn her that she’s in terrible danger, or that she’s going to encounter a giraffe. Tch. Typical horoscopes, always hedging their bets. Later, Coraline sees Wybie and the black cat again and Wybie mentions that he’s never been inside the Pink Palace because his grandmother won’t let him. He says it was due to her twin sister going missing when they were still kids and then leaves and dammit Coraline just nail his feet to the floor and waterboard him until he tells you everything you need to know!
That night Coraline follows the mice through the small door despite being warned not to and all the signs pointing to this being a really bad idea.
Frustrated. It makes me feel frustrated. Worryingly, the Other Mother has started to refer to Coraline’s Other Father as her “Better Father”, and send her out into the garden to see him. The Other Father’s garden is an absolutely gorgeous wonderland of living plants that forms Coraline’s face when viewed from the air.
After dinner, Other Mother tells Coraline that Other Mister Bobinski has invited her to see his performing mice and that she and her “friend” should go and see him (sidenote, Teri Hatcher puts a little weird emphasis on the word “friend” like it’s a foreign word she’s not quite sure she’s pronouncing correctly and it’s just wonderful). She then open the door to reveal Other Wybie.
Other Wybie doesn’t say anything because as Other Mother explains “I thought you’d like him more if he talked a little less. So I fixed him.” It’s such a chilling moment, and honestly, Coraline’s blasé “I like it” on hearing that this Wybourn can’t talk is even worse.
Like a ferret is running up and down my back and he has cold hands. They go upstairs to Mr Bobinski’s apartment and watch the jumping mice perform a fantastic, brilliantly animated choreographed setpiece.
The next morning Coraline wakes up in her bedroom and runs downstairs, only to find that her mother has locked the small door. She asks Mel why she locked it and Mel says “I found some rat crap around there.”
While her mother goes shopping for food Coraline searches the house and finally finds the button key. She unlocks the small door and passes through into the Other Mother’s world where she finds a note on the table telling her that she’s been invited to see Other Spink and Other Forcible perform. Worryingly, the note is simply signed “Mother”. Outisde the house, she sees Wybie’s black cat and assumes that he’s the Other Cat version but the cat says “No. I’m not the other anything. I’m me.” And holy shit that cat is voiced by the most badass voice there is; Keith David!
Yeah, so Other Spink and Other Forcible perform a burlesque song dressed as a mermaid and Venus that, as someone on the TV Tropes page for this movie pointed out, is basically the Tits versus Ass debate in song form. Oh, side note, whoever’s been adding mentions of the blog to TV Tropes, ta very much. Anyway the song ends with Other Spink and Other Forcible unzipping themselves and turning into young, svelte gymnasts who perform a death defying acrobatics act while reciting the “What a piece of work is a man” speech from Hamlet. Meh, whatever gets the kids into the Bard is alright by me. After the show Coraline raves to the Other Parents and Other Mother asks her if she likes it here. Coraline says she does and the Other Mother says that she can stay forever if she wants, she just has to do one little thing and gives her a box. Coraline opens the box and…
Coraline, suddenly realising just how real this shit has in fact gotten says “yeahnothanxbuhbye” and runs to her bedroom and tries desperately to fall asleep. Somehow she does and when she wakes up…she’s still in the Other Mother’s world.
She runs downstairs and out of the house and finds the cat wandering in the woods. They go walking together but the further away they get from the house the more the world just fades to white and the cat explains that the Other Mother only created what she knew would impress Coraline. Coraline asks what she wants with her and the cat says “She wants something to love. I think. Something that isn’t her. Or maybe she just wants something to eat.”
Seeing no alternative, Coraline sneaks back into the house and tries to get through the small door but the Other Mother is waiting for her. Coraline angrily demands to go back home and the Other Mother says “Is that any way to talk to your mother.”
Then…oh God…Coraline says “You. Are. Not. My. Mother.”
And then..the Other Mother…oh God…
AAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGHHHHH….holy shit was that a morphing sequence? It was. Oh my God. They had a morphing sequence in a stop motion animation. Is…is that even possible?! HOLY SHIT THAT IS AMAZING!
Okay, so let me explain. Morphing is…you probably all know what morphing is, right?
Morphing is the process whereby you take one image and morph it into another. You know Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” music video where he turns into lots of different people? That’s a morphing effect. It’s one of the first computer generated special effects ever developed and with modern computer technology it’s dirt simple to do. Ahem. When you use computers. The crazy bastards who made this film? They did this fucker BY HAND. That is, they created a new, slightly different Other Mother model for every twenty fourth of a second of footage. That. Is. Fucking. INSANE. I…I…just holy shit. In terms of technical difficulty this ranks up there with the panning shot over Gepetto’s village in Pinocchio. I mean just…
Is pretty much all I can say. Now where were we? Oh yes, total horror. So the Other Mother, now looking less like Lois and Clark era Teri Hatcher and more like Desperate Housewives era Teri Hatcher goes berserk and throws her into a mirror until she “learns how to be a loving daughter”. In the mirror, Coraline meets three ghost children who tell her that “the Beldam” kidnapped them and then stole their eyes, trapping them in her world forever. Coraline promises to try and find their eyes and set them free, and is then rescued by Other Wybie whose face was sown into a smile by the Other Mother after he stopped smiling.
Other Wybie helps Coraline escape and she returns back to the real world. At first she’s delighted but after searching the house she realises that her parents are nowhere to be found and the groceries her mother went to get are rotting on the kitchen table. She finally goes to sleep, making two…dolls…of her parents out of pillows. Well. That’s not weird at all.
In the night, the cat wakes her and shows her that her parents and have been trapped in a mirror by the Other Mother and she has no choice but to go back through the little door and rescue them. The Cat tells her to challenge the Other Mother to a game, saying “She’s got a thing for games”.
Okay, confession time. I watched this movie on a DVD I borrowed from a friend who got it at a Lebanese market THE LEGALITY OF WHICH I DO NOT DOUBT IN ANY WAY and it’s a little…funny. Basically the disc gets to the point where Coraline arrives back and is captured by the Other Mother who swallows the button key and then jumps ahead to where Coraline is searching for the eyes of the three ghost children. What I deduce happens is that Coraline challenges the Other Mother for her parents’ freedom and she has to find the eyes before the moon is eclipsed. I think that’s it. Honestly, even without the jump this sequence is the weakest in the movie for me. It feels like I’m watching someone play a fetch quest in a video game as Coraline faces off against the now horrifying Other Bobinski, Spink and Forcible. She finds the eyes, which are disguised as innocent household objects and unlocks an X-Box achievement and then returns to the house to claim her prize.
Thine own begotten, breaking violent way
Tore through my entrails, that with fear and pain
Distorted, all my nether shape thus grew
Transform’d: but he my inbred enemie
Forth issu’d, brandishing his fatal Dart
Made to destroy: I fled, and cried out DEATH!
Hell trembled at the hideous name, and sigh’d
From all her Caves, and back resounded: DEATH.”