Sunday, July 26, 2009

CORALINE: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast (voices): Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Robert Bailey Jr., Keith David, John Hodgman
Director: Henry Selick
Runtime: 100 min.
Rating: *****
Genre: Animated, Adventure, Fantasy

        I look back and re-watch a few titles from that studio who are supposed to be the leading animators in the movie business, and I sense a growing disillusionment within me. Especially Wall-E, which I have been considering lately to be a ham-fisted embarrassment, and some kind of a squandered opportunity. There’s Finding Nemo, and I struggle to sit through it, so much so that I lend the DVD to somebody in the hope I never see it again. I might be mistaken here, but I seem to sense a lack of understanding of the entire spectrum of the emotions we feel as a child. Some of these films are so cute that they almost force-feed their cuteness. Animations, much like good comic books, and those fascinating children novels from Lewis Carroll, from R.L. Stine, from Roald Dahl, are a reflection of our hidden fantasies and our deepest fears we feel as we grow up, and those emotions we often are not even completely aware of. But I rarely seem to perceive such an understanding on screen, and most often I only see some kind of idealistic make-belief fantasy world that doesn’t necessarily reflect but instead seems to sell, feeding us what should be rather than what ought to be.
        And then I see that great Japanese filmmaking genius Hayao Miyazaki. Someone who doesn’t shrug away from looking deep into us, and himself, and our formative years. And I see now Coraline, a deeply layered pragmatic view of our world. It doesn’t lie to us that everything around is beautiful, and doesn’t promise us a world that can never be, like most Hollywood animation seems to suggest. It instead asks of us to find the beauty in our largely imperfect, often inconsistent and maybe even a harsh world. For an analogy, consider that little child in Life is Beautiful. And consider that young kid in McCarthy’s The Road. Or little Coraline here. I think when the realities of life knock on their door, that little child whose entire world has been fabricated with lies and shallow beauty would come out second best.
        Think of Coraline. Nobody is cutting for her a fake pretty picture. She has moved to a new house. Away from her friends. Her parents always seem to be preoccupied with their writing. They do not pamper her. They scold her when she gets annoying. They feed her tasteless vegetables as we all have eaten. And mind you, Coraline is not one of those sweet angels they throw at us in the movies. She is annoying just as most children are. She demands attention as we all do. She has an attitude and is often quite rude. Just like us.
        And we never were satisfied with what we had, often receding into fantasies of our creations, into a world constructed out of what we perceived to be perfection. Little Coraline, bored of our new house and lack of friends, happens to discover a secret door to a whole new world that promises the perfection of her desires and dreams. Delicious food, friends, and the most loving parents. Entertainment and fun all the time.
        I’ve had such a dream for most of my life. I seem to relish that cocoon, and I often recede deep into it when I feel the real world overwhelm me. Reader, you might wonder if such a cocoon is some kind of a poison wrapped within a chocolate bar. I wonder too. But then there’s no escaping the charms of it. And we end up being somewhat of an apprehensive lot, meandering in the hallways in between, always attracted to this strange world of our dreams that seems so much more beautiful than the imperfect one surrounding us, but circumspect enough to never embrace it fully and submit ourselves to it. Ah, our fears.
        Coraline suggests these imperfections in that most inspiring of all ways an animation can ever hope to achieve – by evocative use of the medium. It is visually stunning, but then stunning is an incomplete word that could be used to describe most of the mediocre fare that is doing the rounds these days. Maybe reflective is a better word. More so than Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel so masterfully illustrated by Dave McKean. This feels like a minor triumph. It uses 3-D stop-motion animation to render the real dimensionalities of a real word, and manipulates them to highlight these imperfections. These inconsistencies I hint at.
        I believe I need to include images to make my point. And much of what I suggest is inspired from David Bordwell’s blog entry, and this insightful and informative article in The American Cinematographer by Peter Kozachik, the DP on Coraline.
        Consider these two images, of Coraline in her real world, and notice the manipulations in depth perceptions.
        Look at the floor below, and notice how the depth of the floor has been deliberately manipulated to render a rather skewed image. There’s seems to be a glaring contradiction in the way the floor is arranged, without any degree of recession to it. The lighting is uniform, and there seems to be an unnatural gradient in height that our eyes actually sense as skewed.


Here is another image that captures this inconsistency much more glaringly. Pay attention to the wall corner in the middle of the image, and see how all the bricks seem of the same size, suggesting no natural gradation of size. This makes it, in a figurative sense, somewhat of a two-dimensional world.


        That idea fascinates me. Of making the real world feel two-dimensional, as against the imaginary world which seems to have a depth to it, and hence three-dimensional. I’ve often expressed my insecurities for considering Daniel Plainview such a fascinating character, as opposed to an evil one, and have even felt a certain reflection within his eyes. I’m a firm believer in the elitist line of thinking, and I do not try to hide my disappointments when I encounter a rather uninteresting conversation, or for that matter a person. People do seem to be, more often than not, terribly uninteresting and predictable. Unstimulating might be a better word. That might be the deeper me built over twenty-six years, and still a few bricks are being laid. Coraline seems to be that rare animated film that speaks to the child within me.
        I was gripped by the tale within it. I didn’t have to become a child to feel the dread when Coraline finds herself in more than a spot of bother. For the first time in ages, I desperately hoped an animated film ended on a happy note, and feared that it might not. You should see the imagery here. Scary and beautiful at the same time. Not even one bit of it is showy. Not one bit of it calls attention to itself. Not one but of it is symbolic or metaphorical. It serves the purpose of what I believe cinematic imagery ought to serve – evoke emotions. Doesn’t mean your child ought to be protected from it until he is ten. No, not at all. Rather, as a parent, it is your duty to let him feel it. This isn’t ugly, but surreal. There is imagination in the way it supplies rich images with depth in them that evoke an entire gamut of emotions. There is wonder, there’s wit, there’s charm, there’s mischief, and then at the end of the day there’s the truly heartfelt love. And not one bit of it seems force-fed.
        As I come to the end of my review, I begin to ask myself – Is Coraline a great film? I do not know, and to answer that with any degree of conviction, I need to watch it in the medium it was made for – 3-D. There’s no gimmickry attached to it, unlike all the films around. Just like The Dark Knight suggestive usage of the IMAX frame, Coraline, it seems to me, is probably the first film to actually explore the medium to construct a frame that makes a more profound usage of the spatial relationships that exist within it. Even before Avatar is even here.
        But I do think Coraline is the animated/fantasy/children’s film I have been waiting for, which just doesn’t serve the purpose of narrating a tale. A tale is beyond the point, I often remark, and most times it is the reactions to this tale that actually account for the richness. The film dwells within its moments, and takes immense care that we are drenched by it. It is quite possibly the richest audio-visual animated experience I have had. The sounds are so precise. So yes, I cut to the chase, and I ask of you to show this film to your kid. And see it yourself, for you are a kid too.
        And yes reader, it is Coraline. Not the obligatory Caroline. When you tell your friends about this remarkable film, do take care to get the name right, will you. Otherwise this fiery little girl wouldn’t be too amused.


Note: To read more on the production of Coraline, please visit the link below:
http://www.theasc.com/magazine_dynamic/February2009/Coraline/page1.php

11 comments:

Just Another Film Buff said...

Animation genre has been unfairly reduced to Pixar/Dreamworks/20thCF etc. whereas the true animation genius lies elsewhere (anc clearly, much before the new CG age). These major animation films are trying to bring animation close to reality while their function is precisely the opposite. Yes, hats off to technical advancement, but that should be the stuff of video games.

Mishra said...

Hi Naidu,

I agree that most of these animation movies are too sweet and make you feel diabetic at the end.

But the point is "What is target audience here" for whom these movies are made....
Do u think that Kids will actually like CORALINE?

Kids, whom i know....love NEMO, Happy feet, ICE Age,,more than WALL-E....

Last year i saw Blue Umbrella and i gave the DVD to my niece...hoping that she'll love it..but she didn't ...she preferred "Nemo".

Atrisa said...

Seen Grave of the Fireflies?

man in the iron mask said...

Srikanth,
I’m all for technology. Always have been.
But something within me always roots for those simpler times of Buster Keaton. There was some kind of purity to it all. I don’t know, but when he does those stunts in The Scarecrow – jumping clean out of windows, balancing his way on a thin wall – something within me rejoices.

I guess even the most spectacular special effect can never hope to replace the exhilaration of a masterful stunt. The audience senses when it is real, and there’s a certain respect to it.


Manish,
I believe it is upto us to guide our little ones. And Coraline is a thoroughly enjoyable film. It is visually spectacular, and the little one would be awed by it.


Archita,
Oh yes, seen Grave of the Fireflies. It is a very good film. Still I felt it the first time I saw it, and have felt it ever since, and I would want to ask you too – Isn’t a tad kitschy?

Atrisa said...

I was too busy crying to observe all that :|

Aravind Ganesan said...

I think this movie was brilliant. After a long time I found myself travelling with a character.

But when we compare it with a ratatouille and Wall-E, arent we being a tad unfair. I mean arent the motives they set out to achieve different.
BTW I liked your analysis with the pictures. How many times did you watch it? I see a Memento rehash.

man in the iron mask said...

Ah, the motives!! But aren’t they supposed to be the same? Entertain the little ones and the old ones alike. Doesn’t Coraline do that? It is rich, it is gripping and it is brimming with stunning visual imagination.
I don’t know, I’m not an expert, but IMDb quotes it was released in 2299 screens. It amassed $75 million. Imagine a picture with better marketing, and it would have grossed double that amount. We’re talking about a figure close to what Ice Age 3 has raked in till date. I think Coraline is both a marketable product and a rich fodder for the little ones.

And as for the viewings, man, it took me three. There was so much happening I just wasn’t satisfied with one. I took another, and I wanted to take another, and I took another. And I wrote.

AB Van Kenabi said...

Yes.it is indeed a very good film.

Very noticeable "Miyazaki"an influence in the dream sequences especially the garden scene and the performance of the mice (evoked a strong nostalgia of Sen to Chihiro & Mononoke).

I do feel they could've lengthened the movie a bit and worked on character development.

The reason I say this is because it didn't feel "fulfilling" (can't find a better word) as it should've.

Atul said...

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strike said...

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Amar said...

Two words. Gruesome & Haunting. To learn all the other achievements of this movie clearly, I have to learn cinematography from the scratch...