Coraline, a Blu-ray/DVD review

Stop motion has always been a popular, if not exceedingly difficult, medium of animation. Taking days to do a few minutes of a scene due to the small and delicate models used in the movie that require minute changes to create the illusion of animation. This format, despite it’s hard work and long production time, is often used these days as a unique format. A favorite used in such movies and TV shows as Wallace and Gromit, Robot Chicken and The Nightmare Before Christmas. The third title is also directed by Henry Selick, director of Coraline.

Coraline is a stop motion film based on a book of the same name from famed comic book writer Neil Gaiman, known for his series Sandman and the novels Stardust, American Gods and The Graveyard Book.

The film is about a curious girl named Coraline, played by Dakota Fanning, who moves into a old house with her parents. At her new home she meets some strange neighbors, including a strange boy named Wybourne who gives Coraline a doll that looks just like her. Coraline, while exploring the house, finds a small door hidden behind wallpaper. After sleeping she later finds out that the door leads to a world similar to her own, but with people, such as her “other mother”, and things more to her liking.

The story of the movie is somewhat similar to that of Pan’s Labyrinth, but with a more optimistic and magical tone. Starting very upbeat, the movie slowly shows the characters in the other world’s true and cruel intentions. For a movie probably largely intended for children, the film is surprisingly dark and mature, reflecting Gaiman’s writing style. The film doesn’t suffer because of it, but the PG rating is one that should be heavily considered before showing children.

The animation and direction in the movie is perhaps the best part about it. Each carefully crafted character, with their finely detailed clothing and props are animated seamlessly, with a great level of fluidity. To see the movie and think of it just like any other animated movie is underselling it. The great detail and range of emotions Selick got out of these miniature models shows a surprising amount of work and requires at least a second watch to appreciate.

The voice acting with in the movie is just as well crafted. John Hodgman is one of the more interesting actors in the film, in that he is known for his comedic acting and pulls off a dramatic role in a particularly difficult acting format exceptionally well. Likewise Teri Hatcher and Dakota Fanning do a good job with their roles, with both more known for their faces than their acting, doing a great job breathing life into the characters.

Ian McShane shows off his range for accents in the movie in his role as the Russian acrobatic Mister Bobinsky. Other british actors, or rather comedians, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, fit their roles as the retired actresses Spink and Forcible with a great energy. Their roles are particularly interesting in that both were originally cast in the others role and changed their roles shortly after starting their recording. Keith David plays the role of the talking cat in the film, and plays his role perfectly, as one would expect from such a well versed voice actor.

Coraline is a greatly stylized film, but I’m here to review the DVD, specifically the 2-Disc Blu-ray version. The Blu-ray version features the full movie with director commentary, deleted scenes, and multiple layers of behind the scenes footage including some exclusive to the Blu-ray version. The normal version features much of the same, minus a feature looking at the creepy style and the U-control specific special features.

Coraline was shot to be a 3D film, which showed particularly well in the theaters. The other world was shot with heavy use of the 3D cameras, while the real world was shot with more limited use. The home version doesn’t use the 3D nearly as well as it was used in theaters, but does what it can really well with a less refined touch due to the unspecialized hardware that is your typical TV.

The behind the scenes features are great for anyone interested in stop motion animation. These special features focus on things such as the amount of tailoring that went into every character, the creation of the models, props, and scenery within the movie, and the process the voice actors went through for their roles. The blu-ray version features a picture-in-picture animatic feature that shows the hand-drawn scenes along side the movie, along with filmed voice actor sessions through out the movie.

The commentary mentions much of the production process in the film, and provides a great look behind the scenes. The movie, much like most DVDs these days, features a few deleted scenes, but only a small handful as most of the film made it into the final product.

What disappoints the most is the lack of any inclusion of the original soundtrack by They Might Be Giants that were originally written and recorded for the movie, but changed for a more melancholic tone for the soundtrack. I’d like to see how the movie was originally implemented into the movie compared to the darker theme that was used in the final cut. I understand that here might be licensing issues, but it’s still slightly disappointing that we only get a small taste of what they wrote in a 30 second song sung by the “other dad”.

Coraline is a brilliantly constructed and acted movie, that is more adult than its visuals let on. Don’t let the child main character and animated appearance deceive you, the film is a great movie for the mature audience and with discretion taken regarding showing it to a child. The DVD is loaded with tons of special features, and even more on the Blu-ray version. The 3D disappoints compared to the theatrical release, but does surprise in some points with it’s use. I’d highly recommend picking up this movie, especially if you’re a fan of animated movies.

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