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Certain to become a classic.
Dakota Fanning Stars in "Coraline."
OPENING WEEKEND: $16,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $61,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

November 17th, 2008: A high-definition stop-motion animated feature - the first to be originally filmed in 3-D - with spectacular CG effects, based on Neil Gaiman's international best-selling book. A young girl (Dakota Fanning) walks through a secret door in her new home and discovers an alternate version of her life. On the surface, this parallel reality is eerily similar to her real life - only much better. But when this wondrously off-kilter, fantastical adventure turns dangerous, and her counterfeit parents (including Other Mother [Teri Hatcher]) try to keep her forever, Coraline must count on her resourcefulness, determination, and bravery to get back home - and save her family.

What to Expect: Before I begin discussing this film, let me just say this much about it. "Coraline" is based upon a book by Neil Gaiman. It is directed by the same man who gave us "The Nightmare Before Christmas." And its music is being provided by They Might Be Giants. If these producers were intentionally trying to make a film with as much nerd-cool street cred as possible, they only way they could top that trifecta is if they'd gotten David Tennant to provide one of the voices (although they've done pretty well with Saunders & French on board).

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It's damn hard to generate a new holiday classic. Specials like those old Rankin-Bass productions, like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" or all the Charlie Brown holiday specials... Well, they just don't make those anymore. Holiday films are a little easier. We've had a few new-classic types in the last ten years or so, like "Love, Actually" and "The Santa Clause," but so many intentional attempts to produce long-lasting, watch-em-every-year holiday classics fall egregiously flat by succumbing to excessive sentiment or sloppy workmanship. And then there's "The Nightmare Before Christmas," the Tim Burton film that became a classic almost instantly. Except that technically, it isn't a Tim Burton film. Burton wrote and produced it, but the landmark film was actually directed by stop-motion mastermind Henry Selick. "Nightmare" was the first feature-length stop-motion feature ever produced by a major studio, and it won awards by the bucketload as well as the hearts of millions of filmgoers.

The work of Neil Gaiman, the crown prince of graphic novels and fantasy literature, couldn't be better suited to this medium. His fantastical imagination could so easily become trite and gimmicky when rendered in traditional live action or even in the best CGI animation. The herky-jerky, atmospheric gothic sweetness of Selick's stop-motion is just what the doctor ordered.

For those of you not familiar with Neil Gaiman (and if you aren't, what kind of sad, uninformed life are you leading?), he is the author of what some call the greatest graphic-novel series ever written, the intricate and moody "Sandman" series, not to mention the novels "Neverwhere," "Stardust," "American Gods" and the hilarious novel "Good Omens," in which he and co-author Terry Pratchett managed to make Armageddon funny. The adaptations of his works have been surprisingly slow in coming. No one's suggested any films or series based on "Sandman," as far as I know. Gaiman has said that such a project would require a true fanatic, with a Peter Jackson level of dedication to the source material. The recent adaptation of "Stardust" didn't make a very big splash, and talk of filming "Good Omens" has been flying around for years and years with no definite plans in sight. Gaiman's star is on the rise, however, in terms of being a muse for filmmakers. Several of his shorter works are being adapted, and he is collaborating on some other projects. "Coraline" could be a harbinger of his film fortunes in the years to come.

"Coraline" probably seemed like a much easier challenge than some of Gaiman's lengthier, more complicated works. The 2002 novel is short and sweet, written for the young-adult audience, and features a ton of cinema-ready kookiness along with a plucky young heroine of the sort who so often appears in animated films and so seldom in live-action ones. Gaiman himself selected Selick to adapt this story. He sent the director a copy of the book well before it was published (the version Selick initially received wasn't even the final draft of the book), and Selick has been working on this adaptation since as early as 2003, when he first penned a screenplay from the book, intending for the project to be a traditional live-action film but soon coming around to the idea that it would work well as an animated feature.

In the story, Coraline discovers a secret version of her home and parents, a twisted and fantastical version where, at first, everything seems better and cooler than her own life with its distracted parents and ordinariness. Her Other Mother cooks better and pays more attention to her, and she and her Other Father are just what she wishes her real parents could be, their only point of detraction the fact that they have black buttons for eyes. It's when the Other Mother wants Coraline to stay forever that the trouble starts, and soon Coraline finds herself having to rescue her real parents along with three other children trapped by the witch disguising herself as the Other Mother. "Coraline" is a modern fairy tale with that particular Gaiman twist just off-center, perfectly suited to this Burtonesque world. What's amazing is that all the animation is yes, done with puppets, but with a new twist. The action is filmed in spectroscopic 3D, which results in far more clarity and depth than we've ever seen in a film of this kind. People who've seen early clips are amazed that it isn't computer-generated.

Although Selick planned for the film to be animated from an early stage, what kind of animated feature it would be has been a matter of some discussion. Despite Selick's history in stop-motion (in addition to "Nightmare," Selick also directed "James and the Giant Peach"), he originally conceived the project as a combination of CGI and stop-motion. Since the plot involves a young girl who discovers a secret passageway to a sort of Bizarro World version of her own life, Selick thought that they could use CGI for her real life, and then switch to stop-motion for the Bizarro World version, sort of like going from black-and-white to color in "The Wizard of Oz." The problem then became the disparity between the two. Selick had said that the difference in rendering technique always made the viewer feel like one side or the other was better, or more fun, and that wasn't working for the story, so the decision was made to make the entire film as a stop-motion piece.

It certainly seems as if this collaboration is more peaceful than some of Selick's past projects. There were a lot of reports of friction between Selick and Tim Burton during the making of "Nightmare," mostly amounting to the fact that Burton was trying to be a director too, and Selick felt creatively undermined. That wouldn't be a problem for Gaiman, who isn't a film director, and he and Selick have spoken very highly of each other and their collaboration so far. Gaiman has referred to the collaborative spirit of their efforts to produce a script that would be cinematic but faithful to his book. Selick's first version of the script, Gaiman says, was actually too faithful, in that it was just like reading the book. Selick agreed, and with some apprehension, added some material, including a new character. Much of the book has to do with Coraline's thoughts and feelings, which is difficult to convey onscreen, so Selick invented a neighbor kid for Coraline to interact with.

The technical production of this film is a story in itself. Made by Laika Entertainment, the brainchild of Nike sneaker mogul Phil Knight, the shoot set up camp in that filmmaking Mecca of Portland, OR. Stop-motion is a lengthy, painstaking process in which animators must manipulate tiny models of the characters by infinitesimal degrees between each single-frame shot, which can then be assembled into what appears to be a moving image. Knight is staking the reputation of his fledgling company, not to mention $60 million of his own money, on the success of "Coraline," hoping that it will turn Laika into a company that will attract top talent in animation. At any given time, animators were doing the arduous, picky work on any of 40 different tiny sets in Laika's studios. The animators must scrutinize the tiniest details from one frame to the next to assure that they flow smoothly. On-set yoga and massage helped keep the artists' aching backs and arms and legs in good working order.

As far as voice talent goes, Selick has gone into some uncharted waters. His choice for the voice of Coraline, Dakota Fanning, is pretty conventional as Fanning is one of the preeminent tween actors currently working (if he really wanted that nerd-cool cred he'd have hired Abigail Breslin). As the voice of Coraline's mother and the Other Mother, Selick has cast desperate housewife Teri Hatcher, and as Coraline's father, John Hodgman, better known as the PC in those Mac vs. PC ads starring Justin Long as the Mac. Lending his gravelly gravitas to the cast is "Deadwood" alum (and recently-popular voice actor; he also provided a voice for "Kung Fu Panda") Ian McShane as Coraline's upstairs neighbor, and one of my favorite voices of all time, Keith David as Coraline's cat (David is famous for providing the deep, stentorian tones of Goliath, the hero of the much-missed animated series "Gargoyles").

Gaiman's novel has proven fertile ground for adaptation. A graphic novel of the story has already been published, a video game is in the works, and the story is also being turned into a musical. But it is this film that will provide the most visible version of the Hugo-award winning book, already beloved by millions of readers. I can't imagine a more appropriate marriage of material, author and director, frankly. This book is very close to Gaiman's heart, and he must be thrilled with the team that is adapting it to screen.

Selick has said that he doesn't expect "Coraline" to pay for itself quickly, with a huge opening weekend (the film ended up costing $70 million). Rather, he hopes for the kind of slow-building, long-lasting success that "The Nightmare Before Christmas" has enjoyed and continues to enjoy.

In Conclusion: I have such a great feeling about this film. Gaiman's creepy/cool sensibility is a perfect fit for this style of animation, which will only amplify its creepiness and its coolness. My concern is that I'm not seeing a lot of talk about this film yet; nobody but Gaiman fans and stop-motion animation aficionados seem to know it exists. But there's time; with a release date currently planned for February (although who knows, with how this year has been with the revolving-door release date games everyone is playing) it's likely that the publicity department will want to hold off until after the holiday movie rush before going into heavy promotion. Everyone who's seen extended clips from the film is delighted with its look and tone, and Selick is sure to have turned in a technical tour de force and a real step forward for this style of filmmaking. I don't think it'll deliver fast, big numbers, but people will, I have no doubt, discover this film in their own time and love it.

Similar Titles: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, James and the Giant Peach
February 6th, 2009 (wide)
July 21st, 2009 (DVD)

Focus Features

Henry Selick

Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Ian McShane, John Hodgman, Keith David

Total: 43 vote(s).

Kids & Family, Fantasy

Click here to view site

Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor.

100 min




Coraline at Trailer Addict

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