Wednesday, March 11, 2009
The Raw Critic: Coraline
I went to see Coraline over the weekend. It’s the best animated film I’ve seen in awhile. In particular, it held my attention more than either WALL•E or Kung Fu Panda. Why? Though I can’t be sure, I suspect it’s because the story was more compelling. Though I knew it would end well – it’s that kind of story – I was enthralled with the process of getting there.
Roughly speaking, the story is like that of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Both are about a young girl coping with the move to a new home and with apparent parental indifference. In both films the girl finds another world and has to figure out how to get back to the real world. The nature of this other world, however, is quite different.
In Spirited Away the other world is a spirit world inhabited by fabulous creatures and Chihiro is a servant in a bath-house that serves these creatures. In Coraline the other world is a close double of the real world, except that these parents are more solicitous of Coraline, the food is much more appetizing, and people have buttons for eyes. Moreover, where Chihiro merely finds herself tossed into this other world through no act of her own, Coraline deliberately seeks out and enters her other world.
Yet, in both cases, the heroine receives critical help from a young boy and in both cases the final escape involves passing a test given by an old woman, though the test is rather more elaborate in Coraline.
I leave it as an exercise to the reader to map these two stories onto the developmental problems faced by a 10-year old. As a further exercise, you might want to figure out why those problems can be compelling to sympathetic middle aged adults.
Coraline, of course, is not perfect. In fact, it has at least one considerable problem; as Michael Barrier has noted, it can’t figure out just when and how to end. And yet, even as it failed to end when I thought it should, I had no trouble recovering from the misstep and staying interested in subsequent events. Further, Coraline, and her young male helper
rescuer, Wybie, are not particularly cute or winsome. You may find that off-putting, though I did not.
Finally, and by no means least, Coraline is often gorgeous and always visually compelling. In particular, the garden sequences in the other world are wonderfully imaginative. And, by the way, the film is realized through stop-time animation (augmented by 3D computer imaging) rather than the more common hand-drawn cel animation.
If you are at all interested in animation as a medium, you must see this film. If you could be attracted to a compelling story tricked out in pleasing eye-candy, well then, consider letting this treat trick you.
Since it’s Gaiman, the similarities to Spirited Away might be because Gaiman ripped it off.
Possibly, though the dating makes it tough. Gaiman’s Coraline came out in 2002 while Spirited Away came out in Japan in 2001. Depending on just when these things happened, perhaps there was time for Gaiman to have seen the Japanese original and ripped it off in time for a 2002 publication date. But it would have been very very tight.
And yet, even as it failed to end when I thought it should, I had no trouble recovering from the misstep and staying interested in subsequent events.
Just to make sure I’m reading you properly: by ‘the misstep’ you do mean ‘[your] failure to predict when the movie would end,’ right? Because the alternative seems to commit more fallacies of interpretation, imputed intention, and order than this comment box has space for…
There was a point where I thought it was going to end; and ending at that point would have been satisfying. But it didn’t end there, it kept going. Yes, I mis-predicted. But, and speaking in an evaluative mode, I also believe that the film is flawed at that point & that’s the misstep I have in mind. It shouldn’t have led me (and at least one other critic) to expect an ending at that point.
If, in making that judgment, I committed all manner of fallacies, then I committed all manner of fallacies. Subject to viewing the film again, or to a miraculous argument the forces me to re-experience the film, my judgment stands.
Let’s get a Watchmen thread going, eh?
Was Wybie really her rescuer? The cat was critical in helping Coraline escape from the mirror world, but Wybie only provided an assist with dispatching those metal claws at the very end.
It’s worth noting that in the book the Wybie character doesn’t exist; the cat helps Coraline more than anyone else.
I’ve changed “rescuer” to “helper,” which is more accurate. Note that in Spirited Away Chihiro’s helper sometimes appears as a boy, and sometimes as a dragon.
Why would anyone think that Gaiman “ripped off” “Spirited Away”? He has an excellent track record as a writer, and as has been pointed out, his book was started before Miyazaki’s film was released.
That said, I too was reminded-fleetingly-of Spirited Away while watching it based on Coraline’s need to rescue her parents. But Gaiman’s story has quite a bit of its own, very different mythology that stands apart from the Japanese film, and that is the basis of the plot of the book, only hinted at in the film (i.e. “the Beldam"). I found the film fell a little short of the darkest, most haunting qualities of the written story--but only a little, which is exceptional for any adaptation. It’s a beautiful experience in its own right.