Movie title: Coraline (2009)
Grade: D+ (1 1/2 stars)
A young girl finds a doorway to another dimension in her new home.
Spoilers ahead: No


To say that Coraline was memorable isn't doing it. This movie will forever be etched on the folds of my brain. And in this case, that's not a good thing. I can only imagine being subjected to this as a child and not having nightmares from it.

Reading the summary of Coraline makes it sound so quaint, like an adventure in a wondrous world of thrills. Potential viewers should take note of the MPAA rating. Coraline is rated PG, not G, and when it says it, it means it. This is way too scary for young kids. It would border on cruelty to expose a 9-year-old to this. But let's look at what we have.

We have gothic and depressingly dark coloring (better like blue and black) with love-it-or-hate-it stop-motion animation. Drab and unpleasantly life-like animation defeat the real purpose of animation (i.e. to transcend the clutches of this mundane reality). Dark and derogatory rocks, but Coraline's world depressed the living hell out of even me.

Yes, everything is blue, very blue and very depressing. This includes the main character Coraline, a snotty and more or less unlikable blue-haired spitfire who is just darn cute, not unlike her mother. She finds her equally unlikable parents to be inattentive and indifferent. Coraline (Dakota Fanning) is simply the young version of her mother (Teri Hatcher), a contemporary woman like any self-respecting northerner. Her father (John Hodgman) is a career-minded man. Both parents love their daughter. Ungrateful little Coraline has trouble realizing these sorts of things, but she’s in for a surprise.

Coraline and family are new arrivals at The Pink Palace. There, she meets a much-needed friend “Wybie Lovat” (Robert Bailey Jr.), two busty English ladies “Miss Spink” (Jennifer Saunders) and “Miss Forcible” (Dawn French), a Russian athlete and performer “Mr. Bobinsky” (Ian McShane), and a so-called “wuss puss” of a cat (voiced aptly by Keith David). Coraline finds a hole behind an old door in her new place. There, she finds an alternate reality.

Interestingly, everything that is a plus about the film is countermanded in some way. The dialogue is accomplished and fast-paced. It's snappy, but it exposes young viewers to some highly unusual words of the day and visuals, like poison oak, “rat crap,” to nearly nude and busty BBW tea-making women, and graphically disproportionate sportsmen with funny mustaches like something out of a 1960s cartoon. So you see how nothing in Coraline’s world follows an associative train of thought. Most everything is oddly unrelated. When you see something, it’s stand-alone and doesn’t relate to anything else.

And not surprisingly, both realities Coraline goes into and out of are void of anyone who reasons logically. Coraline has a nasty habit of being enthralled with entering a dimensional doorway to another universe in her apartment. It’s ONLY a dimensional doorway! Could she be trapped? Well, the possibility doesn't seem to enter her mind. And she trusts “other parents” who give her everything under the moon. In her mind, there's not even the slightest possibility that they may have ulterior motives.

Poor little Coraline…when chased, she doesn't think harm will come to her until it is upon her. And when seeking to escape back home, she doesn't bother to go back the way she came until she has to. Segments of reality come and go...houses are walked away from, and if you walk far enough away, you come upon them again. Befriending cats hang around for a while and then are not to be found. A character may appear rational in one scene and drunk and distorted in another. About the only thing that anchors your mind back to the real world is a late-model Volkswagon Beetle in Coraline's real world driveway. I never thought I would be so excited to see a Volkswagon in my life!

This might be a treat for those anti-Disney gothic artsy types who love to envision psychedelic takes on our world of the Tim Burton persuasion. It could be described as, in the words of one reviewer, “art-geek masturbation.” Mothers who talk about sewing buttons onto children’s eyes and fixing their kid's friends to make them not talk as much is about as disturbing as any nightmare I've ever had in 35 years of breathing!

One of the beauties of animation is that we can escape reality, not mirror it exactly. But with Coraline we see a move in the opposite direction. That world is not like our world. There, the most disturbing and nightmarish things happen. I felt like I was watching The Outer Limits lumped together with Alice in Wonderland. Only, this land was far less wonderful than Alice's.

Not every “children's movie” is going to get a leg up in the reviews because it is animated. We get plenty of creativity and surrealism, but no payoff in genuine character depth. The story does make some valid points with the Coraline at the end being a breath of fresh air in comparison to the one at the beginning. The morals of the story are sound. Still, if you want a movie to scare your kids and give them a taste of reality from the eyes of someone who was probably molested as a child, show them this.

On the list of things that amaze me in life are the things that pass for “art” and what was running through the mind of creator Neil Gaiman. Art people are like math people in that they can be exceptionally kooky. Whether we're talking about people who draw scribbly lines and staircases and call them naked women, or stupid professors who tell us that parallel lines will someday meet, it's all insanity, much like Coraline. Sorry. I can’t go along with all the hype of praise on this one.



Director: Henry Selick
Starring: Dakota Fanning “Coraline Jones” Teri Hatcher “Mother / Other Mother,” Jennifer Saunders “Miss Spink,” Dawn French “Miss Forcible,” Keith David “Cat,” John Hodgman “Father / Other Father,” Robert Bailey Jr. “Wybie Lovat,” Ian McShane “Mr. Bobinsky”
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Family / Fantasy