I tried to arrange to go see Coraline with a friend, but our schedules kept failing to knit (he has twins). So after a particularly Monday, I hied myself off - and discovered that in fact my local theater was playing Coraline in 3D. Now, I haven't seen a 3D movie since a 'Virtual Reality' expo back in 1993 or thereabouts, which used LCD shutter glasses synced by IR and made my head hurt. But I knew that the director of Coraline had directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, and since I loved the look of that movie, I gritted my teeth and paid the fare.

This new version ("Real3D!!!" shrieked the glasses, wrapped in pretend-clean plastic) doesn't need syncing. Apparently it's all done with polarization as far as I can tell. In any case, after a few previews, a message went up on the screen: "Please put on your 3D glasses now!"

And then we got...

...more previews.

The first preview after the glasses note was for the upcoming Pixar film Up. And...and...holy jackrabbit damn, it's...it's...

...It's in 3D. And my eyes don't feel weird, and my head doesn't hurt, and wow, that really looks 3D.

The new system? Yeah, it works. It still looks like one of those really cool dioramas, but there's now infinite layers of depth instead of 'near' and 'far' - and it shows. Objects have volume.

So after we all finished going "oooooooohhh...shiny..." in unison (and we did), the film opened.

As Timeshredder mentions, this isn't really just a kid's film. The opening montage is a set of inhuman and disembodied (because of point of view) hands taking a stuffed doll with button eyes, slicing it open, snipping off the eyes while someone hums happily, emptying it of stuffing and then turning it inside out before replacing its outers and sending it floating back out the window.


So on to the movie. I haven't read the book. I will say that Timeshredder, his review of the book, said a lot of things the movie made me want to say - it feels like Gaiman has taken several quite familiar fairy tales, snipped out good bits from each, sewn them together into a Frankendoll of a story, turned them inside out...and then sewed the familiar bits back on. If I had to pick a word that describes Coraline, it would be...sorta.

There is a plucky young heroine. Sorta. There are the bad parents. Sorta. There is a magic portal. Sorta. There is a different world behind the glass, Alice. Sorta.

And so on.

It's not a bad thing. It's a fairly wonderful marriage of ancient fairy tale memes and modern sensibilities. Worlds don't simply go dark, they de-rez, even though they look like everyone's image of the Ancient Woods set. There's a cat, but...he's not really a cat. Well, he is, but he doesn't act like one. And his sorta obeys...rules.

Coraline, in fact, felt an awful lot like Neil Gaiman - or maybe the filmmakers - had played Infocom games, and we were privileged to share the mental pictures of one or more of the team, who have really vivid imaginations. The situations are eerie, familiar, logical, and completely fantastic all at once.

The 3D was really, really good - to the point where I kept forgetting it was in 3D. There were two reasons for this; i think some scenes were still flat, but really, I just kept accepting it and moving on, and having to pull off the glasses for a second and then re-don them to go "Whoa!" all over again. I think that the wonders of computer animation are a hindrance, here - we're so used to animated things behaving in sorta real ways that the wonders of 3D movies made with physical animation (models, dolls, clay, lead, wood, buttons) can sometimes pass us right by unless we're careful.

There is, of course, a morality play at the heart of Coraline, and it's one we're very very familiar with. But the play's the thing, and it makes the ride all fresh and new.


The Custodian strongly recommends you see Coraline 3D (which is how it's listed in the movie directories, as a separate title) - but see it any way you can if you like talking to the kid in you while using adult words.

Coraline (2009)
Written by Neil Gaiman
Directed by Henry Selick

Voice Acting: