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Coraline (***)
directed by Henry Selick
by Henry Selick, from the book by Neil Gaiman
Principal Cast
Dakota Fanning -- Coraline Jones (voice)
Teri Hatcher -- Mother / Other Mother (voice)
Jennifer Saunders -- Miss Spink (voice)
Dawn French -- Miss Forcible (voice)
Keith David -- Cat (voice)
John Hodgman -- Father / Other Father (voice)
Robert Bailey Jr. -- Wybie Lovat (voice)
Ian McShane -- Mr. Bobinsky (voice)
Aankha Neal -- Sweet Ghost Girl (voice)
George Selick -- Ghost Boy (voice)
Hannah Kaiser -- Tall Ghost Girl (voice)
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

See it, and by all means see it in 3D. But it could have been so much better if it had just stuck to the book.

I'm not a purist. A book is not a sacred text. The changes Peter Jackson made in The Lord of the Rings were, for the most part, improvements. But the changes Henry Selick made in Coraline weaken the story and are hard to account for.

To give one example, Selick introduces a new character, a little boy named Wybie Lovat. At the end of the film, Wybie zooms in like Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon and saves Coraline. In the book, Coraline uses her own cleverness to save herself. That is a much more satisfactory ending.

The new ending isn't the only thing that made it hard for me to warm to the film. I admired the artistry, and the characterization of Coraline is excellent, but all of the other characters are grotesques. In the book, the characters on this side are eccentric, but have human qualities that make them appealing, while the characters in the Other Place are distorted and inhuman. In the film, except for the strength and goodness of Coraline, and the pure evil of the Other Mother, there is not much to choose between the two worlds. The Other Father, for example, is at least as sympathetic (or unsympathetic) as Coraline's real father, and the two little old ladies are as repulsive here as they are over there.

There is much to admire in the film. Both the art and the craft that went into the stop-motion 3D animation are remarkable. Stop-motion is to computer animation roughly as hand carving is to die casting. Computer animation can turn out astonishingly beautiful work at a price that makes it available to everybody. Stop motion is so expensive that I doubt Coraline will show a profit, even though it has been modestly successful at the box office -- not as successful as the latest low budget comedy or romance, far less successful than a computer animated superhero, but already it has made fifty million dollars, more than three of the five best picture Oscar nominees. That's about three times as much money as the previous fantasy film, Inkheart.

Much of the appeal of Neil Gaiman's writing lies in his prose, and except for dialogue, all of that is lost in a film adaptation. So far, five of his works have been adapted for film (or, in the first three cases, created for film): "Day of the Dead" (for Babylon 5), Neverwhere, Mirrormask, Stardust, and Coraline. All have appealing elements; none has been entirely successful. He has also adapted the work of other writers for film, scripting Princess Mononokee and Beowulf, but in both cases he did the work of a day laborer, not a creative writer. I think he deliberately set out to show Hollywood that he could suppress his own voice and do a professional job of presenting the work of another person.

Henry Selick takes the opposite approach. He set out to make this his film, displaying his own strengths, and only using Neil Gaiman's ideas as a stepping off point. At first, I was a little offended that Coraline is being advertised as Henry Selick's Coraline, not Neil Gaiman's Coraline. But, upon consideration, that attribution is correct. This is Henry Selick's Coraline.

Copyright © 2009 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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