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Henry Selick

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Title: Coraline
Directed by:
Henry Selick
Written by:
Henry Selick, Neil Gaiman
Year: 2009

Watching film adaptations of beloved books is of course dangerous, because most people, including me, are a least a little bit afraid that the director will desecrate the original concept and replace the imagined world with something defined, specific and boring. Even though I haven’t yet watched the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy his imagination projected onto the silver screen before, in the form of Mirrormask. Even though Henry Selick didn’t do as good a job as Dave McKean, Coraline was still above my expectations.

The story is quite simple: A young girl, Coraline, moves with her parents to an odd old house in the middle of nowhere, with few but strange neighbours: a weird boy and his even weirder cat, the crazy acrobat Mr. Bobinsky, and the senile ladies Miss Spink and Miss. Forcible dreaming their way to past glories on the stage. Coraline soon finds a hidden passage which leads to a mirror version of reality called the Other World, where her Other Mother and her Other Father are awfully nice to her and do whatever they can to make her stay. However, all that glitters isn’t gold.

There are quite a few changes from the book, but most of them I accept without a moments hesitation (although I must say it’s a pity the mice were almost completely left out, their song is probably one of my favourite parts in the novel). In fact, the film starts out exceptionally well and it felt like a possible jackpot was on the way. The introduction of the setting, the characters and the first impressions are simply stunning. However, the story and the film deteriorates towards the end, especially when the plot boils down to the computer game syndrome of finding the yellow, red and blue key card to open the doors leading up to the final boss. Not very Gaimanesque and not very interesting at all, frankly.

What about the directing and the technique, then? Coraline is animated in a way I really like. The director makes use of this fact a lot and manage to convey the same feeling I had when I read the book, at least for the first part. In Coraline, I discover a lot of very small but effective tricks and techniques which add to the overall atmosphere, which could be said to be the source of both the book’s and the film’s greatness.

Still, all things added up, the book is better, mostly because of the plot in the latter half of the film. If it would have ended on the same note as it started, this film would have been wonderful, perhaps even more wonderful than the book. As it is now, it’s still very good, but leaves the feeling that it could have been done better. Four snails to Coraline.

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