Coraline sneak peek!
A couple of nights ago, I was one of a lucky few people to get an early look at Henry Selick's new stop-motion - and 3-D! - feature, CORALINE, based on Neil Gaiman's book of the same name. We were only shown about 30 minutes worth of footage - certainly a tasty morsel for a movie that is still months away from being released, but a brutal tease as well, considering how delightful the experience was while it lasted.
The footage contained many marvelous sights, some of which will be hard to describe, so bear with me and trust that I wasn't in the midst of an acid trip while beholding the frequently eye-popping imagery. This IS from the director of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS after all...
A title card simply reading SCENE 1 followed a very simple credit sequence - obviously indicating that we were only going to be privy to a few choice sequences. SCENE 1 appears to be one of the film's first scenes (not THE first because prior events are referred to), introducing us to CORALINE, a precocious young girl (Dakota Fanning), and her MOTHER (Teri Hatcher) and FATHER (John Hodgman). Mother is very much your standard nice mom which is to say she's reasonable and likable and runs the household, and Father is your typical bumbling, loving dad who pretty much defers to mom. Coraline - also typically - rolls her eyes at both. She describes briefly to them visiting a parallel world in her dreams, where everything is a brighter, more pleasant variation on their adequate - but unremarkable - life and house.
Soon after, she delivers a few packages to her upstairs neighbor, which were mistakenly delivered to her home. They smell rotten, and at first visiting the apartment is foreboding - until MR. BOBINSKY (Ian McShane) shows up. Bobinsky is a gentle Russian giant with a protruding stomach who flips acrobatically around his balcony. He explains that the packages are cheese for his "circus mice"; and it turns out that he's so nimble because he himself was a circus performer many years ago.
After this encounter, Coraline goes to the basement apartment to visit with her other neighbors, the quirky sisters MS. FORCIBLE (Jennifer Saunders) and MS. SPINK (Dawn French), who live with their three curious terriers (as well as the stuffed corpses of their previous dogs!). The sisters offer Coraline taffy and tea, in addition to attempting to read her tea-leaves. This doesn't work out as neither of them are able to agree upon what the teal-leaves portend. (Of course, one possibility it good news, the other bad.)
Coraline leaves the downstairs apartment and encounters her semi-friend WYBIE and his CAT. Wybie wears a very intriguing helmet that acts like a rotating periscope - this aids him in looking for "banana slugs." Coraline reluctantly helps him, but his overeagerness generally annoys her. (I've read that this character is not in Gaiman's book.) Before the sequence ends, we take notice that Wybie's cat seems a little more perceptive than a normal feline...
That night, Coraline goes to sleep, and is quickly woken up by a mouse in her room. She follows the mouse into her livingroom and into a long tunnel (guess the rabbit-hole was occupied) hidden in the wall, emerging in her fantasyland. This is where the 3-D really "kicked in" so to speak, with some strikingly beautiful images such as a living garden where the plants tickle her and her "OTHER FATHER" rides a mechanical grasshopper. (See how trippy this thing gets?) Everyone in Coraline's world has buttons for eyes and is generally sweeter than their real life counterparts. Coraline even genuinely comes to like Wybie, because he can't talk and just seems a little more aloof... However, some ominousness creeps in when the "Other Mother" mentions that she "made" Wybie that way to please Coraline... This is the first notion that things aren't nearly as fantastic as they appear on the surface.
Coraline is treated to a brilliant display by the "Other Bobinsky" and his circus mice, and then a similarly acrobatic performance by the two sisters who swing themselves AND Coraline around trapezes in a theater full of terriers (about 400 individual puppets, we were informed). This is all gorgeous stuff, vibrant and extremely impressive.
A later scene with Coraline and her parents brings fully to light how sinister this might all be. Coraline's cheerful Other Parents tell Coraline that if she wishes to stay in this lovely world, all she has to do is sew buttons into her eyes! Coraline, naturally isn't crazy about the idea, and begins to suspect that her perfect little fantasy is masking something darker. The Other Mother in particular appears to be a malevolent being - the Other Father appears to live in fear of her, and she's apparently in control of portions and objects within the house.
The final sequence is the creepiest, with the Other Mother getting angry at Coraline - who demands to return home - growing into an even more montrous version of herself (she elongates and distorts). She throws Coraline through a mirror, which leads into yet another dimension... Coraline hears something strange behind her, and nervously asks "Who's there?!"
And fade out. DAMN! I was entirely engrossed during all of this, but these last few scenes were what really stood out. As a kid I loved the way some children's movies were able to turn grotesque and disturbing and get away with it (LABYRINTH springs to mind), because at the center of the ghoulishness was still a living heart and an adventure story. If the rest of the film manages to balance precariously between these bright and dark tones, it stands a chance of becoming a classic. And I can't begin to describe how gloriously executed the stop-motion is (those mice!). On its own it would be a fantastic achievement, but combined with the 3-D it's truly one-of-a-kind. This thing is meant to be seen in the theater, make no mistake, so you can take this as a major recommendation. CORALINE hits theaters on FEBRUARY 6th, 2009.
For more about CORALINE, head on over to the Official Site HERE.