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Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009)
Coraline’s mix of computer generated and stop-motion animation is inelegant at best, and more likely an insult to the proven versatility of this particular brand of hand-crafted art. Director Henry Selick’s team has created several fully-realized features in the past, but this is the first one where a mixture of mediums makes his signature stop-motion style seem outmoded. At first, the jittery stutters of his handiwork might seem charming when compared with the smoothness of the CG elements, but soon the disparity between the two modes becomes distracting. The juxtaposition of seamless and rough movements reduces the very illusion of motion that animation is intended to create in the first place. Perhaps the marketplace or the budget of the film demands this mixture, but there’s no doubt that the combination proves artistically deadly.
Even worse, the quality of the animation is hardly the only problem plaguing the sloppily constructed Coraline. A poor-man’s Alice in Wonderland, the movie features a young girl who moves into a new home, only to discover a fantasy world that is more nefarious than it first appears. Animated features with pre-teen girls as protagonists seem to be rare these days, which makes it all the more disappointing when Coraline begins to resolve its plot in a messy, masculine manner. Although Coraline herself is not presented as an exceptionally bright character (she’s really quite unlikable), it still seems ridiculous that any heroics in the final act of the movie should hinge on whether or not she can grab her hedge clippers fast enough, or whether she can outrun a detached claw.
This narrative inelegance and indifference to character is typical of Coraline’s script, though. Despite a small cast, there’s barely any explanation of the villain given. Coraline herself doesn’t overcome obstacles so much as have solutions to her problems explicitly relayed to her. The series of magical doodads and supporting cast members become the real heroes, making the petulant titular character less of a role model than a blank slate. More exasperating is the realization that for a film so thematically insubstantial, Coraline is exceptionally long-winded. The resolution of the plot grows padded out beyond belief, as one arbitrary quest is replaced with another. Eventually, the tiresome action sputters out, but the conclusion brings no great catharsis… only the realization that for all of its attempted transgressive wonderment and morbid curiosity, Coraline remains firmly grounded in convention.