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February 15, 2009

‘Coraline’ offers glimpse of dark

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP


Coraline” is a 3-D, hyper-imaginative, postmodern fairy tale set in the rainy Northwest and a parallel universe. Actually, it’s adolescent Coraline’s ideal, cloned universe with her “other” mother — you know, the good kind of mother that serves your favorite food, dotes only on you and lets you do whatever you want. What starts off as a dream world becomes a nightmare, and Coraline learns to appreciate her real, not-perfect, but loving parents. (Moms and Dads everywhere are going to love this movie.) Dakota Fanning excellently voices Coraline with loads of nuanced expression.

The production values are phenomenal, boasting some of the sharpest life-like detail in animated movies yet. The tone is quiet and reflective. Anything can and does happen in the “other world.” Animals and flowers are personified in both delightful and frightening ways.

Two ancient former burlesque queens who aid Coraline are comic relief, but at one point, they put on a show, and the one with the Monty Python-esque outsized breasts is practically naked for quite a spell, and it borders on the pornographic. (Porn is created in today’s very realistic computer animation, so, cartoonish as this portrayal is, it is highly inappropriate in a PG movie).

In order to stay in her perfect world, Coraline must agree to have her eyes removed and buttons sewn in their place (not as gory as it sounds) like all this world’s inhabitants. Coraline will not go that far and flees the fantasy world, but when her parents are parent-napped and taken to the “other world,” Coraline must return and save them at her own peril. She must also find the eyes of three ghostly children trapped in the other world. Once their eyes are returned, their souls will be freed.

Is “Coraline” too dark for kids over, say, nine? I would say no, but every child has their own sensibilities. Kids seem to love dark fables because they do fear the monsters and bogeymen in their lives (real or imagined), and they love to see a young person like themselves triumph over them.

Although it seems the filmmakers would like “Coraline” to be about “seeing,” that theme is not fully developed. It’s more about embracing an imperfect world. Coraline has “good enough” parents, and Coraline even has delightfully imperfect teeth just like her Mom’s. As one character says: “The better world is a trap,” or, as the saying goes: “The best is the enemy of the good.”