Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just gratuitous violence, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a hoot about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.
Starring: Dakota Fanning (AMERICAN PASTORAL , CHARLOTTE’S WEB , I AM SAM , and the upcoming OCEAN’S EIGHT ), Teri Hatcher (RESURRECTING THE CHAMP , 007 TOMORROW NEVER DIES , and 8 episodes of TV show SUPERGIRL [2015 – ongoing]), and Keith David (THE NICE GUYS , HERCULES , video game MASS EFFECT , and the upcoming THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS )
Support: Robert Bailey Jr. (THE HAPPENING , MISSION TO MARS , and TV show THE NIGHT SHIFT [2014 – ongoing]), Ian McShane (JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 , THE GOLDEN COMPASS , SEXY BEAST , and upcoming films HELLBOY  and JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 ), Jennifer Saunders (ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE , SHREK 2 , and MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND ), Dawn French (ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE , and HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN ), and John Hodgman (PITCH PERFECT 2 , MOVIE 43 , and BABY MAMA )
Director: Henry Selick (MONKEYBONE , JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH , THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS , and the upcoming TV show LITTLE NIGHTMARES ). Writer: Henry Selick (short films). Composer: Bruno Coulais (a ton of foreign films). Cinematographer: Pete Kozachik (CORPSE BRIDE , JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, and NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS)
Is LAIKA trying to be synonymous with Halloween?
Their feature film was something of a marvel. It’s by the same director as NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, and stop-motion animation hasn’t always had a consistent presence in film, but I think LAIKA’s keeping interest in it alive and CORALINE is owed a huge thanks for that. What would follow are extremely creative and memorable ventures like PARANORMAN (2012), BOXTROLLS (2014), and the two-time Oscar nominated KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016). All of which leave their own special impact a memorability, a true testament to the talent that goes into these wonderfully creative movies.
The story follows a young girl named Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning). She’s just moved to a new place and is having a classic case of adjustment. She meets an odd, but well-meaning local boy named Wybie (voiced by Robert Bailey Jr.), but Coraline doesn’t care for him much. This doesn’t stop him from giving her a doll that looks just like her. While exploring her new home, she happens across a small door that leads her to a world seemingly exactly like her own, except her parents, called her “other parents” are different. As opposed to her real parents, who are too busy for her, hints of a troubled marriage, and rarely crack a smile, her other parents are more creative, give Coraline their undivided attention, and try their best to give her a fun world to be a part of, especially Other Mother. But as Coraline spends more time in this world, the more it becomes clear that in order for her to stay there, Coraline has to pay a price, one she isn’t ready to pay.
I love this movie. You know how the “G” rating for movies might as well be extinct, even though plenty of PG-rated movies are just G movies with maybe one weak swear word or one adult innuendo? Well, this is the movie you look at when you want to see what a real PG-rated movie looks like. It’s a kids movie, but make no mistake, it’s a horror film. There’s some dark and creepy imagery that gets pretty extreme. I know adults who get squeamish around this movie. From the moment Coraline enters the “other world,” it’s presented innocently enough, but it doesn’t take long for some of the oddities to stand out and you get a sinking feeling that this world isn’t quite right; that it’s way too good to be true. And when things start to unravel, the world gets scarier and more disturbing. I can definitely see some kids being too scared to watch this.
But in a way, that’s part of what makes Coraline such a great character to follow. She’s probably around the age range that this movie is targeting, younger teens and older kids. But anyone younger can probably look to Coraline almost like an action hero. She’s brave, smart, resourceful, determined, and barely phases at the scary stuff at all, even though I’m scared out of my wits looking at Other Mother’s final form. With that said, she is also a little mean-spirited. When she first meets Wybie, she gives him a nickname “Why were you born,” a play off of his proper name, Wyborne. Granted, when they two first met, Wybie almost runs her over with his bike, wearing a creepy skeletal mask with triad of different scopes attached to it, but it’s still surprisingly kind of mean, not that he seems particularly insulted by that.
Actually, this does present my first smaller problem with the story. Coraline is something of a mean girl. She been forced to move away from everything that she knows and her first encounter with the locals nearly hurt her. Within the first five minutes no less. Weak justification, but justification all the same. But why is Wybie so unaffected by the name-calling? He makes it clear that he doesn’t go into the flats, but it can be assumed that he at least has interacted with the other residents, who are clearly just as eccentric as he is. One would think the put-downs would be uncommon. Plus, wouldn’t the emotional hurt be a fine enough reason for him to drop off that Coraline doll? The movie states that he gave it to her simply because it looks like her. Um… is he seriously not questioning how creepy this is? If he was operating on hurt feelings, he could have purposely given Coraline the doll as a means to purposely creep her out, and as the events of the story unfold, we could easily beg the question if Wybie knew about Other Mother and keep Wybie’s knowledge of the other world as secretive as possible, only to reveal that he was only trying to get even with her, not try to put her in harms way and had no idea about the other world or what the doll’s purpose was. Wouldn’t all of this give Wybie some depth to his character and add to some mystery within the story? Also… doesn’t Coraline accept that doll a little too easily? I mean, it’s a doll that looks exactly like her and she hasn’t lived in the flat for longer than half a day and already something creepy just happened.
From this point, it’s just grand tour of the house until Coraline happens upon the magical door, leading her to the other world. Actually, this was about to be my second issue with the movie, the stuff in the real world being too boring. But then I thought about it for a minute and realized… I think that’s the point. Coraline is supposed to be fed up with her boring and mundane existence in her own home and around her parents, which is what fuels her to go to the other world where she’s the center focus. The dullness of the makes perfect sense. You can’t have it be lively, colorful, or visually interesting to look at, otherwise anyone could rightfully call Coraline a spoiled brat. You couldn’t have the parents get along or seem too loving, otherwise she could be called ungrateful. Her motivations for going into the other world are perfectly explored. It’s only later that we realize that at least the mother, Mel (voiced by Teri Hatcher) really is trying to be there for her daughter and empathizes that Coraline is going through her own thing right now, but times are hard for everyone, so sacrifices have to be made, further fueling Coraline’s desires to visit the other world. Even though the adults would now understand the parents and their reasons for being so distant, we still understand that Coraline is too young to understand the choices a parent makes for the greater good of the family.
Okay, I’ve been yammering on and on about the other place. Now it’s time to geek out about it. This place is unbelievably imaginative and wonderfully dark for Coraline to explore. Already the button eyes are disturbing because of the implications. Buttons have to be sewn on with threads and needles… yeesh. But when we’re introduced to Other Father (voiced by John Hodgman) that some measure of whimsy is presented. The mechanical hands built into the piano that allow him to play that piano. It’s a fun little moment, including the dinner scene where they’re eating a delicious buffet. A mango milkshake dispenser? Science, get on that, pronto! And then install it in my house immediately upon completion! Except… not a mango milkshake. Strawberry for me. Mango milkshake sounds gross. But then Coraline’s second visit includes a beautiful stroll through the garden. You have colorful frogs with button eyes, glowing tulips, or whatever they are, and flowers in the shape of dragon heads, it’s wonderful to look at. My absolute favorite thing is when Other Father shows up on a giant mechanical praying mantis that he uses to trim or cut down plants. I thought this was incredibly creative, the forelegs used like scythes, that was cool to watch. Yo, science! Here’s your second project for me! Oh man, that Other Bobinsky’s (voiced by Ian McShane) bouncing mouse circus… phenomenal. All those bouncing mice in perfect unison, running on rolling balls, playing instruments, I don’t even want to think about how long it took the animators to do that sequence, but it’s positively gorgeous to behold. And once the creepy stuff starts to happen… pure nightmare fuel. Other Spink (voiced by Jennifer Saunders) and Forcible (voiced by Dawn French) turned into a conjoined taffy monster, the rats that assume the form of Other Bobinsky, my skin is already crawling. And as I mentioned before, Other Mother’s final form… I don’t sleep well for days.
I love this movie. This is that kind of movie where it doesn’t matter if you’re a kid or an adult, there’s something for everyone to find engaging. Creepy imagery that’s loaded with creativity and imagination coupled with a dark tone, a great and unique protagonist in Coraline, and a wonderfully sinister performance by Hatcher, this is a truly amazing film that should be seem by anybody who has an appreciation for this kind of film making and storytelling and maintains its hold as my favorite LAIKA film, as well as my favorite film to watch around Halloween.
My honest rating for CORALINE (2009): a strong 4/5
I know there’s quite a few more Halloween themed or horror films that I could have reviewed and written about, some more obvious than most, but these were the ones that hit me the most and motivated me more to write about. Have a safe night of partying or trick-or-treating, everyone! Happy Halloween!