Coraline is a frustrating film. It is filled with incredible visuals – some of the best I have ever seen, in fact – but the story around these visuals just doesn’t hold up. The movie feels like a Tim Burton film with the dark meter turned up to eleven. Coraline is genuinely creepy; not just for a family film, but genuinely creepy regardless of its intended audience. It is a movie that I should love, but the script doesn’t allow it.
Though I’m sold on this all being an incredible dream, Coraline tells the story of the titular character (voiced wonderfully by Dakota Fanning), who lives with her two parents that are legitimate jerks. They treat their daughter like some random kid on the street, never having time for her because they are working on a gardening magazine to make money. I was surprised to see how coldly the film treats the relationship between the parents and Coraline, even after the climax, which is where one would expect the “happy ending” to be all warm and fuzzy.
Coraline finds a locked door in her new digs that leads to another world, filled with a seemingly better mom and dad that give her exactly what she wants: love and affection. No one could blame Coraline for wanting to spend time in this dream world because her parents treat her so poorly. Things are not exactly right, though, and the fact that the people in the dream world all have buttons where their eyes should be becomes the least of her worries.
Coraline shines in two important areas: the visuals are breathtaking and manage to make the eerie script even more brooding, and the story doesn’t take all the expected steps that a film like this normally would. It’s unique, and excellent, in both of those areas. Watching it in 3D is an even better treat (though the Blu-ray did have some ripping with the 3D effects). Everything pops, and the colors are truly incredible. The major problem, and the reason why I cannot love the film, is that the plot moves along much too slowly, especially for a family film aimed at younger audiences. It took me multiple viewings to finish because it kept putting me to sleep. This is a big no-no when your main audience is young children who can sit still even less than I can.
Coraline lives on the brink of greatness. It is absolutely worth seeing for the visual feast alone, but the visuals cannot drive the plot forward quickly enough to make it a great film. There are some interesting characters, but making the parents so unlikable actually works against the film’s climax. Even for all its positive qualities, Coraline’s negatives unfortunately outweigh them, and the film comes off as lukewarm.