February 6th, 2009 By AARON MESH | News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Reviewed for the Very First Time: Coraline Scores High with National Critics

     
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Reviewing Laika's giant Phil-Knight-money-sucking movie on Wednesday, I wrote: "Relax, everybody: Coraline is good." The day after Coraline's world premiere in Portland, the movie has debuted on 2,100 screens nationwide, and if you hear a sigh of relief whispering out of Hillsboro, it's because other critics have resoundingly agreed: Laika rocks.

The review aggregator Metacritic is tracking Coraline with an average rating of 81 (out of 100), while Rotten Tomatoes has it peaking at 87 percent "Fresh" reviews. (The Los Angeles Times speculates that this could be the first Oscar contender of 2009.) And the big papers are behind it—here's the New York Times' A. O. Scott:
There are many scenes and images in “Coraline” that are likely to scare children. This is not a warning but rather a recommendation, since the cultivation of fright can be one of the great pleasures of youthful moviegoing. As long as it doesn't go too far toward violence or mortal dread, a film that elicits a tingle of unease or a tremor of spookiness can be a tonic to sensibilities dulled by wholesome, anodyne, school-approved entertainments...“Coraline” lingers in an atmosphere that is creepy, wonderfully strange and full of feeling.

The Village Voice's Scott Foundas also raves:
Selick avoids using the movie's 3-D canvas for ostentatious "gotcha" effects, instead employing the enhanced perspective the way a painter might, adding subtle details of height and distance that would be diminished in the standard 2-D frame as he slowly envelops us in Coraline's dueling realities. Best of all, he understands that the most affecting fables are those in which sweet dreams turn out to be trapdoors to nightmares. So enter Coraline at your own risk, and watch where you step.

Roger Ebert is slightly more wigged out:
The director of "Coraline" has suggested it is for brave children of any age. That's putting it mildly. This is nightmare fodder for children, however brave, under a certain age. I know kids are exposed to all sorts of horror films via video, but "Coraline" is disturbing not for gory images but for the story it tells. That's rare in itself: Lots of movies are good at severing limbs, but few at telling tales that can grab us down inside where it's dark and scary.

And New York's David Edelstein is the requisite (and irritatingly perceptive) party-pooper:
As I drank in the phantasmagoria, the surreal music-hall routine, the flower dances, the giant grasshopper ride, the heroine's endless prowls around artificial landscapes, I kept wondering what I was missing. It might be as basic as emotional focus. The pace is barely varied, and instead of becoming a spitfire detective (as in the book), Coraline drifts around in a daze. Selick saddles her with a playmate—a curly-haired boy with a souped-up, sci-fi-worthy scooter—and her initial impatience with him makes no dramatic sense: It's the lack of contact with kids that helps drive her into that alternate universe. Selick botches the climax by having the boy roar back and deprive Coraline of her ultimate triumph. Did he need a male character to keep this from being a, you know, girl picture?

I share Edelstein's reservations, but after watching the movie twice, I don't think they matter: The world is so boundlessly inventive, and gets so many details right (all the way down to the soundtrack, which combines moaning European children's choirs with They Might Be Giants) that the failures of tone fade immediately from memory. Have I mentioned that you should maybe see this movie?
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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