Friday, February 13, 2009

Very Taken with Coraline

I know, I know, the title is very similar to Jon's post on the same subject, but there's only so much you can do with the two titles, so that's what you get. Don't judge me.

As the title implies, Jon and I caught a double-feature of Taken and Coraline this week. I'm going to start off saying that I enjoyed both of them immensely. I thought I would enjoy Taken and I was fairly certain I would enjoy Coraline. I'm gratified that both lived up to expectations.

We watched Taken first. For those that don't know, it features Liam Neeson as an ex-black-ops guy with a daughter just reaching adulthood. She gets kidnapped while on a visit to Paris, while on the phone with her ex-black-ops dad, natch. The trailer features Neeson's response to the kidnapper, which pretty much sets up the whole movie. Here, watch it yourself and you'll see what I mean.

Damn, Neeson can do chilling. This movie is what you would get if you married Schwarzenneger's classic Commando with the Jason Bourne trilogy and cast Neeson in the lead.

I give Taken thirty-four out of thirty-seven dead kidnappers on a scale that I just made up that doesn't mean anything. If it doesn't sound awesome to you, there's a good chance that you're dead inside.

If that's the case, then Coraline may be the very thing you need. If the magical world that Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick create using the stop motion style Selick is so well known for from The Nightmare Before Christmas can't melt your cold dark heart, nothing can.

Coraline is a children's book by Gaiman. Well, as close to a children's book as Gaiman gets. Some children would love it, I'd daresay. I'm afraid it would scare the bejeezus out of my kids. Coraline is a little girl recently moved into an old house. An old russian acrobat, Mr. Bobinski, rents an apartment upstairs where he trains a grand mouse circus. Two faded stage actresses, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, rent an apartment in the basement where they care for their little angels (scottie dogs, some a little closer to angels than others.)

Neglected by her parents and bored to tears, Coraline is thrilled when she finds a secret door to another world. This world is remarkable like her own, but perfect in every way. On the other side of the door is the same house with the same people, but different. Her "other mother" and "other father" are attentive and caring, satisfying her every whim. The garden outside, instead of an overgrown heap of vegetation is a colorful, musical homage to Coraline herself. Upstairs, Bobinski's marvelous mouse circus is a sight to behold. Downstairs, Spink and Forcible put on a fantastic stage show culminating in a trapeze act with Coraline in the middle.

It's too bad that there is a sinister motive to all the perfection. Not everything in the other world is as perfect as Coraline's other mother would have her believe.

Coraline is voiced by Dakota Fanning. I've never been a big fan of hers, but she gives the character a good backbone and allows the viewer to sink into the experience rather than making the voice more important than the character. Jon has some issues with her accent, having come from that region. I understand where he's coming from. It seemed to me like she was aping Fargo more than a dialect, but it certainly wasn't a deal breaker.

Teri Hatcher voices Coraline's mother and other mother. The other mother has the most and some of the best lines, naturally. She did a good enough job losing herself in the character. For a while I thought it was Drew Barrymore doing the voicework. John Hodgman of "I'm a PC" and The Daily Show fame plays Coraline's father. Although, for a special music number, John Linnell of They Might Be Giants takes over. It's as delightful as the rest of the movie.

We also have Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French as Spink and Forcible. Having long since proved their chemistry as a comedy duo in the UK with shows like Absolutely Fabulous, they work their considerable charm here as well. Keith David plays a wise black cat that helps Coraline throughout the adventure. He's one of those, "Oh! That guy!" actors. He's been in tons of stuff. Ian McShane voices Bobinski. He's another like Keith David. Bobinski is pretty entertaining as he delivers his lines while bouncing around the screen with his lanky frame and beet-shaped body. A new character created for the movie, Wybie, is played by Robert Bailey Jr. It appears the movie execs wanted a counterpart for Coraline. It certainly didn't detract from the movie, so no big deal there.

Selick does an amazing job at bringing Gaiman's world to life in Coraline. From the dismal rain of the real world to the vibrant colors of everything in the other world. A great moment in the book is when Coraline leaves the immediate vicinity of the other house and things start to abstract. The trees become less like trees and more like the concept of trees. That is exactly what you see on the screen.

Technically brilliant, sparkling cast, witty dialog, and exciting plot combine to make Coraline well worth watching. If you can get to a 3D theater to do so, more the better.

I give Coraline six out of six button eyes on a scale that I just made up that doesn't mean anything. Go see it, just preview it before taking the youngsters.