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Coraline (2009)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/21/2009

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/21/2009

I hate to go off on a "back in my day..." rant, but when I was a child, theatrical releases of animated films were rare. Disney would release or re-release something every now and then, and there would occasionally be a release from another studio, but they were certainly an event. Today, animated films are a dime-a-dozen, and I hate to sound bitter, but kids today are just spoiled...with animated movies. Anyway, with these animated films, we get different types of animation -- most are computer generated, but there are still some traditional hand-drawn films released once in a while. What we don't get much of is stop-motion animation. This painstakingly slow process has never has never been prevalent in feature-length films, so when one arrives, it's worth studying. The latest arrival is Coraline.

As Coraline opens, we are introduced to the Jones family, who have just moved into the bulk of a large, pink house which is known as the "Pink Palace Apartments". Mother (voiced by Teri Hatcher) and Father (voiced by John Hodgman) are very busy working on a horticulture catalog, and thus have no time for their daughter, Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning). The young girl goes exploring and meets an odd young boy named Wybie (voiced by Robert Bailey, Jr.). On their second meeting, Wybie gives Coraline a doll which he claims belongs to his grandmother -- the odd thing is that the doll looks just like her. Coraline also meets her unusual neighbors; a Russian acrobat, Mr. Bobinsky (voiced by Ian McShane) and two retired actresses, Miss Spink (voiced by Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Forcible (voiced by Dawn French).

While playing in her house, Coraline discovers a small door. She persuades her Mother to open it and they find a brick wall behind it. That night, Coraline is roused from her sleep by some odd mice and following them, finds that the door now leads down a strange tube. Coraline follows this and emerges in a mirror-image of her world, but things are very different. Here, her Other Mother and Other Father have all of the time in the world for her. They cook great meals for her, play music for her, and grow a beautiful garden for her. The odd thing is that they have buttons for eyes. There are versions of all of the people in her world here, and they too have the button-eyes. When Coraline returns to her own bed, she assumes that it was all a dream, but subsequent visits prove that it wasn't. However, as Coraline visits the other world, she begins to suspect that all isn't as it seems and that looks can be very deceiving.

As one would expect, the animation and production design are great. Coraline comes form Director Henry Selick, the man who oversaw the animation for and directed The Nightmare Before Christmas. Obviously, that film was highly influenced by the art of Tim Burton. Here, Selick and his designers get to start from scratch (while staying true to the source material). They've given each character a unique and individualized look -- Coraline has her lopsided grin, Wybie has his oddly hanging head, Mr. Bobinsky has his spindly legs, etc. The sets are very lavish and detailed. The most impressive pieces come in the other world, most notably in the garden. If nothing else, Coraline is a visual feast.

Coraline is based on a novel by Neil Gaiman. In the making of included on this disc, he stated that if you filmed the book, it would be "about 47 minutes long", and therein lies the main problem with the movie. There's no denying the fact that the story is interesting and some of the fantasy elements work quite well. I especially liked the fact that a cat was actually cost in a positive light. But, the movie is somewhat slow at times. The 101-minute movie contains several shots of Coraline walking or exploring which are meant to express her boredom, but they slow the film down. And given the cost and work which goes into each shot, it’s painful to imagine that any moment is wasted, but the film could have certainly been tightened up some.

All of that aside, one question remains; at whom is this movie aimed? There’s no denying that Coraline raises some childhood issues which are very relevant and to which one can related. However, since the movie deals with losing one’s parents, children being killed and eye violence, there’s certainly a question of whether or not it’s appropriate for younger children. Then we have Miss Forcible’s breasts...I wouldn’t want to field questions about that. The finale gets a little crazy and could certainly scare the youngsters. But, unlike Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline doesn’t have much of a wink-wink-nudge-nudge appeal for adults. It’s a solidly told magical tale, but parents should take the level of weirdness into consideration.

Coraline has inexplicable blue hair on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 18 Mbps. The Disc contains both the 2-D and 3-D versions of the film. The 2-D version is practically flawless. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic, and despite the fact that there are some dark moments in the movie, the action is always visible. The picture has an incredible amount of depth and I felt as if I could reach right into the tiny sets. The level of detail is great as well, as we can see any nuance in the puppets and fabrics. The 3-D version doesn’t fare so well. Again, no one has perfected home theater 3-D. The colors are incredibly murky and the level of detail falls off dramatically. The 3-D effects work OK for depth and things coming at us, but they aren’t impressive enough to sacrifice the ultra-sharp look of the 2-D version. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are very good, as they show good separation and they’re nicely detailed. The surround sound effects are nearly constant, and they help to pull the viewer in. These effects are well-placed and accurately correspond with the on-screen action. The music sounds great and the subwoofer effects bring a nice “oomph!” to the proceedings.

The Coraline Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Henry Selick and Composer Bruno Coulais. This is a fairly good talk, as Selick speaks at length throughout the film and touches on many subjects. He discusses the differences between the book and film, the voice actors, and he describes the animation process without getting too technical. The Disc contains a selection of DELETED SCENES which run about 9 minutes total. That isn't a total of 9 minutes of new footage though, as most of the time is taken up by Selick's chatty introductions. We get five deleted or extended scenes and a handful of excised shots. There's really nothing new here, save for an extended talk between Coraline and her mom about starting school. "The Making of Coraline" (36 minutes) is a detailed, multi-chaptered featurette which examines many facets from the movie. Comments from Selick dominate the piece, but we are treated to input from Neil Gaiman, concept art, footage of the voice actors at work, the creation and manipulation of the puppets, and how it was all brought together. "Voicing the Characters" (11 minutes) brings us more footage of the actors at work, and we get to hear their thoughts on the characters and the recording process. "Creepy Coraline" (5 minutes) explores the ideas and animation of the odd creatures in the movie. The "U-Control" feature brings us three options for picture-in-picture extras: "Tours and Voice Sessions", "Picture-in-Picture" and "Picture-in-Picture Animatic".

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long