Saturday, February 28, 2009

Coraline: A Creative Morality Tale for Children of Academics and Other Rustabouts

If you're looking for a new movie to put onto the Ten Best Animated Movies for Traumatizing Kids list, Coraline may be the one.

Caroline, an animated film based on an award-winning 2002 children's dark fairy tale, falls into the genre created by Lemmony Snicket and Hayo Miyazaki's Spirited Away: dark, animated children's stories about children entering a psychological netherworld of monsters and demons, and learning lessons in the process of escape.

In Caroline's case, her parents have moved her from Michigan to a big, damp Victorian boarding house in the cloudy northwest, where she broods and waxes sarcastic as she finds herself immensely bored: until she discovers a closet in the wall that leads her to a secret life of wish-fullfilment and danger.

Without going into spoilers, what I can tell you is that this movie has a subtle, anti-convention subversive moral. It seems to be the kind of story that university professors would tell their bored children who protested their academic careers wishing to have more "normal" doting parents; normal, here, being the equivalent of a kind of creeping evil. There's also a distinct anti-traditional-values theme happening. The movie seems to be saying that the worse thing that could happen to a child is a doting, stay-at-home mother. Coraline's name after all is Coraline, not Caroline, with the vowels reversed as a kind of badge of uniqueness and pride. To be Caroline and not Coraline would be to be merely normal, maybe even a zombie.

Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that moral. It's just that unlike the heroines in Spirited Away or even a movie like Pan's Labyrinth, this moral about not fitting in is simpler, and Coraline doesn't really need to learn much in the process of escaping the predicament she's gotten herself into.

But aside from this, the look of Coraline is amazing; for eyes grown bored with 3G animation the creativity here keeps us watching in awe through the movie. Equally compelling is the storytelling. The supporting characters are all fully entertaining, with thespians like Jennifer Suanders (of "Ab Fab" and "Shrek" fame) and Ian McShane (of "Deadwood") lending their fabulous vocals. The opening sequence astounded the audience, and you could hear the gasps of awe and disturbance as the sequence ended, leaving everyone with a creepy feeling and a million questions. This isn't the goth vision of Tim Burton - it's got a little more Disney to it than that - which is why the dark happenings seem even more disturbing. There is also a friend for Coraline, a boy named Wybie - as well as, as there often seems to be in these films - a wise and helpful cat, and Coraline's growth to appreciate them both (and they her) adds a dimension to the story that takes it beyond a simple adventure fairy tale.

And as I said, it is a movie designed for scaring young children. Not recommended for kids under seven, though older children will find the animated sequences entertaining and the story compelling. And adults, too, may enjoy the look and the imagination of this nice little film.

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