Coraline is an ordinary girl that's feeling the effects of this particular kind of growing pain. She's old enough to more or less look after herself, which is just as well because her parents are too busy to pay any attention to her. Day in and day out they do nothing but burrow their noses into their work. Taking the time to stop and smell the roses is a concept they've forgotten long ago. The only words they seem to understand anymore are deadline and stress, leaving Coraline to be a nuisance in their lives, if not a distant memory altogether. Coraline had some loyal friends she could count on to cheer her up whenever home life left her feeling a little blue, but that support system evaporated since her parents moved them to a house apartment in the middle of nowhere. She comes across a kid her age by the name of Wybourne (Wybie, for short), but if he's any indication of what the local flavor of friendship has to offer, she's even worse off than she thought.
Bored out of her skull, Coraline decides to explore her new home. Everything is as dull and ordinary as she feared it would be... except for her very curious discovery of a small door that's been covered with wallpaper in the living room. Opening the door ends up being just as much of a disappointment for her as the rest of the house, as whatever the doorway had been hiding was barricaded by a wall of bricks. After the sun goes down however, Coraline's curiosity gets the best of her and she decides to see what else she can find. To her surprise the brick wall behind the small door is gone! Bad idea or not, Coraline has been itching for a little excitement, so she crawls through the tunnel to find out what's on the other side. She unexpectedly finds herself in a parallel world that's much like her own, except everything is perfect there. This 'other' world is more entertaining, the food is better, the obnoxious neighborhood kid Wybie is unable to talk, and her 'other' parents spend every waking moment smothering her with love and affection. The only truly peculiar detail in all of this is that everyone has buttons for eyes. Warnings both vague and blunt tell Coraline that this 'other' world isn't what it seems, and that she should stay away from it no matter what it seemingly has to offer. Of course Coraline has seen the grass much greener on the other side, so she ignores the warnings and soon finds out she should have heeded those warnings.
On the surface of it all, Coraline (based on the award winning novella by Neil Gaiman) can seem like a story that's merely been crafted to shake a hefty finger at children that threaten to hate or run away from parents that don't always give them their way. It's rather refreshing to see such a lesson from a story that's been released after the turn of the millennium, especially since society has transformed into an obsessive group of child bearers that stop at nothing to make sure every tiny thing is done to accommodate children to a fault (my opinion, of course). It's not the 'be careful what you wish for' theme that makes Coraline such an engrossing film however, it's the awe inspiring presentation that makes Coraline shine as one of the year's best films to date.
There's no denying it, Henry Selick's signature is all over this flick. One look at the character and model designs and you'll instantly be reminded of The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. This time around however, 3D printing technology has been utilized to provide more detail to these designs than ever before. Although Selick never had a problem with conveying his artistic intent, taking advantage of the greater definition he's able to achieve with this method of model production definitely has its benefits. Selick's style is still just as delightfully twisted as it ever was, but the precision modeling that's used goes a long way in completely enveloping the audience in the universe(s) that's been crafted for Coraline. Instead of looking at objects that blatantly appear to be molded clay, we instead see both of the portrayed realities in this film with a photorealistic quality. How these designs are utilized is even more impressive. Selick certainly didn't have to test his mettle against the audience at this stage of the game, but he once again tops himself with an extraordinary ability to produce jaw dropping, gorgeous sights in a spooky and atmospheric way.
Couple the colorful yet dreary, fear inducing sights with terrific voice acting all around, as well as a sound design that's equally as important to the film overall, and Coraline is one of the most effective pieces of cinema I've seen in quite some time. It's so effective in fact, you may want to watch this yourself before deciding if it's appropriate for your child. Although Coraline is very much dressed up to entice the little kiddies to tag along for the ride, it might downright scare some of the younger crowd. The creepy button eyes everyone in the 'other' world possess is one thing, but once the trap is sprung and the reality of the situation is revealed to our heroine, everything is shown in a pretty scary light for the rest of the film. If your child is accustomed to watching, oh, most of the Harry Potter franchise, I think it will be safe enough for them to watch. If they can handle it, I would definitely recommend for the entire family to sit down and watch this movie together. Adults will undoubtedly appreciate the irony of looking back on what it was like to be a child that wished for so much more, kids will fall in love with the story and its unique characters, and who knows, perhaps they'll even start to appreciate you loving parents out there that much more!
When every aspect of production comes together in the final product, it's clear that every piece was given the attention it deserved. It's a film that an incredibly wide audience can not only enjoy, but connect with emotionally. The story is written and delivered in a way that can be enjoyed on numerous levels by all ages, and the fantasy/horror tale thankfully wasn't watered down in order to appease the younger crowd that was undoubtedly going to be drawn in. Coraline is a film that I feel will end up being as timeless as Selick's previous efforts, if not more so. It may not gain as wide of a cult following as The Nightmare Before Christmas, but for those who take the time to give Coraline a viewing, they may find they have a new favorite from this director. I didn't get the chance to see this in the theater, and boy am I sorry I missed such an opportunity. I would probably place this amongst my top three or four so far this year. If you let this flick fly under the radar such as I did, take my advice and wait no longer!
This VC-1 encode (1.85:1 at 1080p) is one of perfection. The colors are as vibrant as can be, black levels are deep and inky without ever being dark enough to steal detail away from any single frame, and sharpness and detail are immaculate. In fact, the film more often than not appears to be photorealistic. I almost felt as if I could reach out and touch the various models used throughout the film, and that's while I was watching the 2D version of the film! Coraline relies heavily on its use of light versus dark as well as its use of color, so it's great to see that every aspect that Coraline's creepy tones and mood hinge on were reproduced so faithfully. Thankfully, I don't think there's going to be a single Blu-ray enthusiast out there that's going to find legitimate reason to complain about the transfer here. I would definitely consider this to be reference quality, and wouldn't hesitate using Coraline as a showpiece whenever a friend decides to ask about the benefits of having a Blu-ray player.
The 3D version, as expected, was less than impressive. The four 3D glasses that come with this release are green and magenta, so prepare for a visual experience that's going to make you feel seasick with all the green, yellow and orange you'll be seeing. The 3D effect itself isn't that bad, it can actually be pretty impressive from time to time. Unfortunately the entire ordeal ends up being a little distracting as you can usually see different colors meant for each lens at the same time, causing a bit of a colored shadow effect throughout. I recommend at least checking out some of the key scenes from the film in 3D, but when all is said and done I think everyone should stick with the 2D presentation whenever they plan to watch the film in its entirety.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is just as impressive as the video transfer. Dialogue is the most important aspect of the first half of the film, and is as crisp and clear as can be. Voices are never muddled and every word is easily understood. Once Coraline realizes her decision to visit the 'other' world time and time again was a huge mistake, the soundtrack and sound effects come at you in full force to convey proper amounts of tension and dread. The directional sound stage is always accurately depicting whatever is on the screen, making the blatantly fake looking world of Coraline almost as real as we're willing to let it be. It's apparent that the sound design was given just as much attention as the film's visual design, as it's just as every bit as important to providing the viewer with the emotions the director wishes to convey at any given time. This lossless track reproduces the experience with gusto, never leaving an audible trace of digital compression to sour the experience.
As I've already mentioned in the video portion of this review, both 2D and 3D versions of Coraline are available on this release. Also included is a second disc that contains both a DVD and digital copy of the film as well.
Feature Commentary with Director Henry Selick and Composer Bruno Coulais - This is an incredibly informative commentary that covers pretty much everything you would want to know about Coraline. They discuss the original fantasy/horror novella and how it ultimately ended up making it to the big screen. Well, I guess I shouldn't really say 'they', as Bruno isn't exactly a large part of the discussion. However, Selick explains in pretty great detail the voice cast and what it was like working with them, the difficulty of getting the character models to flow so effortlessly throughout the film, and acknowledges the entire crew that worked so hard in order to bring Coraline to life. The Hollywood scene is fixated on CGI work more than anything, so to really understand the stop motion team's duties is to truly appreciate them, and I found that to be the most appealing aspect of this commentary. Definitely worth a listen.
U-Control - Picture-in-Picture - U-Control allows you to access either full-length animatics while the movie is playing, live action interviews, or behind-the-scenes footage. Selick's commentary was pretty informational, but to actually see all the behind-the-scenes stuff while the finished product is playing at the same time make you truly appreciate this practically lost art of filmmaking even more. Even more refreshing is that it's not a physical rehash of everything Selick discussed either. Sure, you'll see much of the stuff Selick references to in the commentary, but you'll learn so much more by checking out the U-Control features. This keeps repetition to a minimum, and the information that is rehashed painless to sit through again.
Deleted Scenes - The deleted scenes stray away from the traditional method of allowing the viewer at home to pick and choose whatever deleted scene they want at any particular time. Instead, they're presented all as one featurette. This may be bothersome to some, but I was actually very pleased by this. I hate nothing more than to watch a 37 second deleted scene, go back to the menu to select a 15 second scene, then go back to the menu after that and... well, you get the point. Selick introduces each scene in order to give the audience the necessary background information about it, and why it was cut.
The Making of Coraline - This featurette gets a little more technical, but not so much so that the audience is going to find themselves twiddling their thumbs. You can watch this all in one sitting, or you can watch the listed segments individually: Evolution of the Story, Directing the Voice Sessions, Making Puppets, Coraline's Closet, Setting the Stage, I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Fog, The Eyes Have It, It's Alive, Wrapping Up Coraline. It's pretty self explanatory by the name of most of these chapters for this making of featurette, but you're pretty much getting the full shebang here. Just about every aspect of production that brought Coraline to life can be seen in full here. This is definitely another featurette that's highly worthy of your time.
Voicing the Characters - This really seems to be more about showing the fun side of the cast than anything, but it's still entertaining enough to watch and I'm sure the kids will love this one even more.
Creepy Coraline - The author (Neil Gaiman) sits down for 6 minutes or so to discuss the differences between his novella and the film. This actually could have been the cream of the crop as far as special features go, but this was actually a rather dull sit down.
It's worth noting that this film is compatible with the D-Box motion system.
This is an extremely rewarding set of supplements. About 90% of it is entertaining enough to keep even the most fidgety person watching throughout their entirety. All the information about Coraline and the stop motion processes you could ever dream about is here, and tops off this Blu-ray release with a bang.
I've already given this film enough acclaim in the review itself, so in short, Coraline is definitely up there amongst some of the best 2009 has had to offer thus far. It's a film that both children and adults can enjoy for numerous reasons. It's enchanting, sad, funny, heartwarming, and hauntingly thrilling. The premise for the story is simple on paper, but its execution is possibly worthy of inspiring filmmakers of generations to come. The experience on this Blu-ray release packs quite a wallop, too. The video and audio presentations are flawless, and the supplements go above and beyond not just explaining the stop motion process to the audience, but getting them to appreciate the bajillion hours of work that goes into making it all come together for the final product. If you haven't checked out Coraline yet for whatever reason, it definitely needs to be the next thing on your 'to do' list. This isn't the kids movie you may have thought it would have been based on the advertising, and I think you'll find this to be quite different from the expectations you might have. Coraline's 2-disc Collector's Edition receives the DVDTalk Collector's Series rating from yours truly, a recommendation I've only given out a couple of times during time served to the site. I'd even go as far to say this should be an excellent blind buy for practically anyone, so what are you waiting for?