Sunday, February 08, 2009

Coraline: Unlocking the Papered-Over Door

Some years ago, I bought Neil Gaiman's book CORALINE in hardback, but somehow never got around to reading it. More recently, I bought the hardback graphic novel adaptation of CORALINE, by P. Craig Russell, but I haven't read it yet either. This weekend, Henry Selick's stop-motion-animated movie adaptation of CORALINE opened in 3-D in theaters; and in light of the critical acclaim for it (and my admiration for both Gaiman's writing and Selick's skills) I figured we'd better go see it.

I'm very glad I did.

CORALINE is one of those extraordinary movies that uses a high level of craft to make you completely forget about the craft, forget about the 3-D gimmickry, forget that these are wooden figures being painstakingly moved by hand a few millimeters between frames, and just get sucked into the story.

The movie plays to both Gaiman's and Selick's strengths, in that it combines the ancient with the modern. Gaiman often puts modern characters through the paces of old stories and fairy tales, where a likeable (though usually not entirely) character enters another world and must learn and use the rules of that world. Selick works with the ancient art of puppetry; and stop-motion animation, one of the oldest kinds of visual trickery in film (one that is possible only with film), which gives the movie a tactile reality that computer animation cannot (yet) achieve. Yet he also uses the more modern technology of 3-D (far more advanced than the old red-blue-lensed cardboard glasses) and high-definition photography to make his imagery even more vivid.

Selick puts out few movies, likely because they are so time-consuming. (The lasting merchandising value of his NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, however, shows that his work can be commercially valuable.) Each one he does is a treat.

And hey, how many fantasy films (let alone stop-motion-animated ones) are set in Ashland, Oregon?

As for Gaiman, one can hope that the newly-Newberry-awarded writer's work achieves more box office success here than the last film adaptation of his work, the enjoyable but underperforming STARDUST.

No comments: