Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Coraline" - what "Ponyo" should've been

My review of "Ponyo" was pretty clear: I was disappointed, but understood that a great artist like Hayao Miyazaki merits leeway. HM made a pure kid's movie with little story, development, or stakes. My guess is he made a movie for really young children... "Coraline," however, was also released this year, and also billed as a kid's film. It has everything that "Ponyo" lacked.

I see buttons for eyes and think this relationship will end badly
Our eponymous hero is a smart and willful teen. Her parents are totally absorbed in her father's writing career. Moving to a new town finds Coraline bored and creeped out by her new digs. But the house has a secret room (of course) that leads to a parallel world - one in which everything is slightly wrong. She meets duplicates of her parents, and they recognize her as their child. They're nearly the same, save that these parents dote on Coraline - and their eyes are buttons. For all the kindness and attention she receives, this new world doesn't seem like a nice place to live... Throughout its running length, Coraline is a great doll-mation movie, directed by Henry Selick of "The Nightmare Before Christmas." It's full of emotion and humor. The characters are vibrant, be they mouse, monster, human, or cat. Every scene flows from the characters, and every scene works. Better still, it's a kid-friendly movie that has genuine peril. How does it pull this off? The film's based on a novel by Neil Gaiman, an author I revere. Neil is, for my money, the best source of modern fairytales - the roots of which are fear. The Grimm tales were far scarier than the neutered ones we hear today. Imagine a "Cinderella" that ends with the step-sisters flogged 'til they bleed. Gaiman, as a modern master of the style, is an expert at crafting brilliant characters and fantastical adventures. And danger, danger, danger, lurks largely at every turn. Death, isolation, the loss of one's soul - they permeate his stories; his gift is in making the danger appropriate for his audience. The majestic "Mirrormask" was perfect for the early teen set, and "Coraline" suits a classic children's tale just fine. None of this would bore any adult. Both books/films are written so their appeal climbs right up the age scale... I saw "Coraline" with a few friends in February. It's my first, and only, "new 3-D" experience. It was terribly cool, and looked gorgeous even without the specs. The design of this doll-mation masterpiece was as exceptional as every other aspect. I recommend it to all but the youngest children. Ending where I started, Gaiman's story is far more in the vein of Miyazaki's excellent "Howl's Moving Castle," "Princess Mononoke," and "Spirited Away." Here's hoping Hayao makes an adult-friendly tale next time.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Chime in!