Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Who knew these buttons could be so creepy?

Credit: O. Johnson
Credit: O. Johnson

There is something inherently creepy about Tim Burton’s brand of stop-motion animation. Lanky, rag-doll caricatures with unsettling smiles are psychologically much more twisted than the ineffectual “Chucky” trademark, revealing wherein our true fear of dolls lies. We fear that they will tempt us until we become quixotic –– cerebrally enraptured in their play –– to the point of no return. We fear that we will begin to love them more than we love humans. And, we fear that they will eventually turn us into one of them.

Henry Selick’s (“The Nightmare Before Christmas” “James and the Giant Peach”) new film “Coraline” remarkably taps into these very fears, requiring the audience to let go of that manufactured amnesia toward its childhood years. Childhood, especially for those who had a bad one, makes a vivid return –– even better yet, it’s three-dimensional.

This was my first 3-D movie and I really had no idea what to expect. I didn’t expect, however, to become nauseous by the end of the movie because of my own optical shortcomings. The 3-D effect is cute, but woefully unnecessary. Especially for a movie like “Coraline,” which only really used the effects to its advantage several times: to make a tunnel, to make a web, and to show a needle. Besides those key scenes, the 3-D effect was a nuisance, so don’t think you’ve lost that pivotal visual “something” if you only see this movie without that extra dimension.  

To my joy, this film was eerily reminiscent –– beyond Tim Burton’s world –– of Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Both directors are doggedly concerned with the nature of children in the intersection between real and fantastical environments. Children, thus, are not innocent bystanders of their enjoyable, flowery world, but active and conscious beings whose mind can be the habitat of painfully astonishing, real dramas.

The film follows the story of Coraline (whose name is frequently mispronounced at the consequence of a grunt or two). She is 11-years-old and has recently moved to the Oregon countryside –– not the most entertaining place for a lonely, yet curious girl. To make matters worse, she soon meets a boy named Wybie (the only character who is not in the children’s novella by the same name), who she immediately begins to despise, and her parents are almost always busy and fail to care for her, adding to rampant loneliness. Coraline (played by a slightly unbelievable Dakota Fanning) soon finds a trapped door –– an entrance –– that leads to into a parallel world that is far too similar to her own real one. The one difference is that everyone has buttons for eyes. The trope (the buttons) only increases in creepiness as the movie progresses, but don’t let that discourage you from giving this film a chance.

To go with the plot, the film revels in social commentary that is far too accurate to go unmentioned. The parents, unfortunately, reminded me of some of my friends’ parents back in high school. I effortlessly saw the girl as a mirror into my own childhood, when I would wander, think and engage in seemingly innocent mischief. And the colors –– the blues and their derivatives –– frequently textured my own child fantasies as well as nightmares.

While “Coraline” is not a superlative flick (though it will unquestionably contend with Pixar’s “Up” for next year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar), it is a good one, provided your eyes can adjust to the awkwardly clunky 3-D glasses. The ending reminds us that as real as this film may have become, we are still watching a children’s movie. Fanning does an O.K. job as the protagonist’s voice, but, really, it is the story above all that will pull you in, twist you around, and spit you out. Indeed, it is like a button being sewn into a jacket: the oscillation of the thread through each buttonhole, the coming together of the two and, finally, the cutting of the string.

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