DVD review: "Coraline"

DVD review: "Coraline"

The Movie

One of the great slogans seen in the northwest is "buy local" and why not? We have great produce, meats, cheeses and wines. Well now, buying local also means checking out an excellent, locally-produced movie.

When Nike chairman Phil Knight founded LAIKA, a Portland-based animation studio, the announcement came with a lot of excitement. The studio created even more buzz when Henry Selick (director of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas) signed on to produce a stop-motion, animated film based on celebrated author Neil Gaiman’s book Coraline. As proud as Oregonians are for locally produced cheese, wine and beer, we can also be very proud for this film.

Coraline tells the story of a young girl who moves from Michigan to rural Oregon. Her family moves into an apartment in a renovated old home and it doesn’t take long for her to meet a strange cast of neighbors. Coraline’s parents are constantly working and her isolation leads her to wish for another life. As we all know, the grass is greener on the other side, but you should also be careful what you wish for. When a strange boy gives Coraline a mysterious gift, she’s transported to another world; one in which her parents dote upon her and fulfill her every wish. Her mom cooks wonderful meals and her father regales her with mirthful songs. But as she quickly finds out, there’s always a catch, one which may be deadly.

Director Henry Selick expands upon Gaiman’s story and infuses Coraline with much of the same spirit found in The Nightmare Before Christmas. The stop-motion animation is flawlessly executed and the art direction is lush, sumptuous and nightmarish at the same time. Certain parts of the film reflect Coraline’s drab, boring existence, appearing as a dull, gray haze, while the fantastic elements are bright, vivid, and all too good to be true. Like all good fairy tales and morality stories, Coraline combines both the fantastic and macabre in a package perfectly suited to kids and adults alike. The writing is sharp and the story never drags, moving at a constantly entertaining pace.

If all that wasn’t enough, Coraline was also produced in 3-D adding another element of enjoyment to the film. The stereoscopic effects are non-intrusive, non-gratuitous and motivated by the story. Selick’s animation team has done a great job and Coraline possesses a dark, moody, textured feel you just don’t find in a computer-generated film.

The film also comes with a solid vocal cast, featuring Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Ian McShane (Deadwood) and Keith David. I’m not one for all-star voice-over casts, but this group does a solid job bringing their characters to life. Hatcher in particular does a very nice job in her dual role.

Hats off to Phil Knight, LAIKA and Henry Selick for a job well done. Coraline manages to deliver both stunning visuals and a solidly entertaining story. It’s great to see filmmakers keeping old animation techniques alive and choosing stop-motion for this project was a great choice. Coraline is a true delight and perfect entertainment for families.

4.5 out of 5
Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor

The DVD

The Coraline 2-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD delivers the film in two versions, a 1.85:1 anamorphic version in standard 2-D and a 3-D version on the second side (accompanied by 4 sets of 3-D glasses). Both versions come with 5.1 channel audio.

Here’s my one problem with this DVD. It’s really tempting to pick this up for the 3-D effect, but I have to tell you, I’m not impressed. The problem is that the DVD was produced with the old style anaglyph 3-D system; the kind with the red and green glasses. The latest theatrical releases are made with the polarization 3-D effect; the dark, 3-D "sunglasses." This is a much better way to watch the film and frankly, I found the DVD’s anaglyph 3-D pretty much unwatchable.

My eyes never fully adjusted to the image and scenes alternately appeared red or green, depending on which of my eyes took a dominant role. Maybe my eyesight is worse than I thought, but it’s more likely my vision was compromised by a bad system. Perhaps this problem will work itself out when 3-D high def televisions are perfected, but until then, I’d recommend watching the standard 2-dimensional version of the film. The colors are much truer and you won’t have a migraine after watching the film.

The second disc comes with 9 minutes of deleted scenes, a 35-minute documentary, an 11-minute feature focusing on the voice actors and a digital copy which you can download to your computer or portable device. It’s not an overwhelming set of bonus features, but enough to enhance the enjoyment of the film. The primary disc also features an audio commentary track with director Henry Selick and composer Bruno Coulais.

I like the supplemental features, but found the 3-D effect to be seriously lacking. I hope future technologies will allow fans to enjoy the superior 3-D polarization process at home.

Bonus Features rating
3 out of 5