Readers of this blog may already suspect I’m in the tank for Neil Gaiman and I’m not too proud to cop to that. He’s a by-golly good writer, OK? And even though I was less than wowed by his 2002 book, Coraline — a fairly standard Gaiman story, I thought — I am ringing the bell big time for the upcoming release of the 3D movie on DVD next Tuesday.
You really should pick up a copy of this, one of the best movies of 2009, kiddie or otherwise. (This 2-disc Collector’s Edition at Amazon includes a 3D viewing option— but be careful. Most sources indicate you should get four pairs of polarized 3D glasses with this edition, but Amazon’s own product review, as of this writing, has no confirmation of this.)
But the movie isn’t necessarily what I’m reviewing here. Since its debut in February, Henry Selick’s stop-motion picture has been roundly praised by better critics than me, and rightly so: The visuals are hypnotic, the voice acting sublime, and the 3D effects simply stunning (watch for the difference in depth between the “real” world and the “other” world — I’ve never seen 3D tech used to such useful storytelling effect). The puppet “acting” deserves its own Oscar, as the subtle facial expressions and body language of the dolls conveyed more emotion than I thought possible with toothpicks, tweezers and tiny armatures.
I took all three kids to see this in the theater, and they loved it — even the 4-year-old girl, who has bravery issues. They talked about the movie for weeks leading up to the showing, and for weeks after. Why were they so stoked? Partly because I fueled them with repeated viewing of the beguiling trailer, but also because I primed the pump of their anticipation with the official site: coraline.com. This isn’t the first big picture to get a spiffy Internet budget, but this may be the most effective use of funds for the job yet. The Flash-designed site makes a perfect pairing with the movie it promotes: it’s creepy, kooky, otherworldly (literally), and yet still playful.
With the ethereal music of composer Bruno Coulais cooing in the background, visitors are dropped into Coraline’s world. The interface here is familiar: Movements of your mouse influence a left-and-right pan of the grounds of the Pink Palace, giving you room to explore the physical locations, such as Mr. Bobinsky’s flat …
… where you can have circus mice spell your name, or watch a weird, unrelated stop-motion movie about a dancing mustache:
That’s just one room’s discoveries, but the grounds are riddled with weird finds — and in every case, the Flash animation is flawless, intuitive and fun. When we happened upon the “Create a Flower” activity in the garden, we got so sucked in I had to pull my boys away from the computer a half hour later. I repeat: My boys were invested in designing flowers. This activity in particular had mesmirizing animations to enlived the creation process, and the controls were just a kick to play with — the very ideal of a digitial toy.
In a similar vein, the “Other Mother’s Workshp” played up the unsettling predeliction of the antagonist to sew buttons over Coraline’s eyes — and, thanks to a webcam link and photo upload function, your eyes as well. You don’t have to stick to a strict one-button-per-eye allotment …
… though our family found an afternoon’s satisfaction sticking with tradition:
Other rooms hide movie clips, simple games, and some really compelling “making of” documentaries. (And truly, even if “making of” documentaries aren’t your cup of tea, try these anyway. Coraline‘s production qualifies as a Wonder of the World. Where would you go to find a lady who knits really small sweaters?)
The site wasn’t just a compelling come-on to get us wound up for opening weekend. I also credit it with setting expectations for the tone of the entire movie, which was a little intense and scary at times. Youngest Daughter would probably have dragged me out in the first 20 minutes if she hadn’t been fully immersed in the Web-based experience. The online Coraline is where we started good conversations about what kind of story to expect, what parts of the story were “real,” who the villain was, and how she had been created one frame at a time by a corps of some really skilled — and probably really intense — people.