On The Aisle
by Tony Macklin
“Coraline” is a mesmerizing tale with macabre stitching.
There’s no blood, but “Coraline” is a haunting horrorfest located in a weird wonderland.
“Coraline” is the animated story of Coraline Jones (winningly voiced by Dakota Fanning), who has moved with her parents (voiced by Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) from Pontiac, Mich., to part of a remote house in Oregon. They have traveled there to try to complete writing a garden catalogue.
The 11-year-old, precocious Coraline is left alone. Her parents are preoccupied; they also are pedestrian — the mother occupied with busy work and the father a mediocre cook. Their book project is their overriding concern.
So Coraline explores the 150-year-old house with its squeaky doors and rusty pipes. She finds a small door in the wall, through which she eventually is able to transport herself.
Her dream-enhanced exploration beyond the door leads her to another mother and father who look like her parents except they have buttons for eyes.
Her “other” parents in the alternate world beyond the door in the wall offer Coraline a tantalizing world of treats and fun, but it may be a dangerous trap.
The house has nothing on the house above the Bates motel. The old house is not the only similarity to “Psycho.” Beware, the mother.
One of the best elements to “Coraline” is that it is unique. In the contemporary world of cookie cutter cinema, “Coraline” is a welcome one of a kind.
But it’s not just odd. It is an impressive feat of arresting imagery and clever story. The visuals do not leave the story behind; it keeps up. The dialogue is smart, characters even quote Shakespeare.
The imagery is beautifully compelling: a theater full of Scottish Terriers as the audience, an attack of bats, acrobatics, a vivid garden suddenly flourishing, a hideous adversary and many other piquant delights.
Coraline is a valiant young heroine. Her allies against evil are a feral cat and a stalking boy. They make an intrepid trio.
The evocative imagery is enhanced by the lilting music of Bruno Coularis, and especially the Children’s Choir of Nice. They contribute distinctly to the magic.
It’s all concocted by director/screenwriter Henry Selick, who adapted the novel by Neil Gaiman. Selick directed “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) and “James and the Giant Peach” (1996). Despite fumbling “Monkeybone” (2001), Selick has remarkable gifts for invention and fantasy.
There are two versions of “Coraline,” stop-motion animation in 3-D, and one in 2-D. One should attempt to view the 3-D version, but unlike many other 3-D movies, the 2-D version also can captivate.
TV’s Monk will not see it however, since the clunky 3-D glasses are passed on from show to show, and one has to leave an ID to get them.
But “Coraline” transcends the annoying glasses. It has its own brilliant vision.
“Happy-Go-Lucky” is flibbertigibbet cinema. Mike Leigh directed Sally Hawkins in this paean to a peahen.
Sally Hawkins plays Sappy … I mean Poppy. Poppy is a primary school teacher in London; she’s on a journey to see the silver lining in everything, but she doesn’t know the difference between silver and dross.
So she gushes over everything. She’s intrusive and self-serving. She’s loud and she’s vapid. I tried to take a snooze, but Poppy kept giggling inanely and braying.
Whether shrieking at a rave, being a live wire at an after-rave party, or clucking with a girlfriend, she never lets up. She even chatters during lovemaking.
She’s a human gasoline can spraying herself on every ember she encounters. She pours her giddy gasoline on teachers, turning a flamenco teacher into a stomper and crier, and turning a cynical driving teacher (Eddie Marsan) into a ranter and rager. Having scorched her path, she blithely walks away.
British director Mike Leigh has tried to create a nice antidote to his downbeat “Vera Drake” (2004). Sally Hawkins didn’t get an Oscar nomination, but she won a Golden Globe award as Best Actress for her ebullient turn.
Mike Leigh, let me introduce you to Fran Drescher, Kathy Griffin and Nancy Grace. They’re your kind of women.