Since I twittered that I was going to see the new Henry Selick/Neil Gaiman film Coraline with the kids, a lot of people have been asking me to give them my review of he film and if it is safe to take their children to. Even before we went into the theatre, other patrons were warning me in the lobby that this movie "was not for kids" and that they would be harboring nightmares for weeks. (To be honest, I was made to feel like I was a neglectful parent for even walking into the theatre with my gaggle of children. But I digress.)
Well to answer the question, I would say that it is not a film for "very young" children and more than likely not friendly for kids below the age of six. As many of you know, Nora and I have a baseball team of varying ages here. My two oldest (ages 13 and 11) had read the book this past summer and enjoyed it. In fact, they prefer the book over the movie. My younger three (ages 9, 8 and 6) had not read the book but had a vested interest in it, not only from their older siblings, but also because the commercials featured music by They Might Be Giants. Their interest only continued to grow when they found out that former Jawbone guest and friend, John Hodgman played the part of the father/other father in the film. Add in the fact that we are huge fans of Henry Selick's visual style, it would appear that my family was destined to see this movie.
One thing I love about this film, as is the case with all of Selick's work, is the handmade quality of the film. Its been said before, but it bears repeating, these movies by directors Selick (and let us not forget Aardman Animation) are labors of love. Emphasis on the labor. It employs the stop-motion animation style of film-making which, in this age of CGI and computer animation, seems like a dying art. But the charm of this film are the imperfections of the animation. The Harryhausen-like fingerprints that adorn the talking cat's fur. The choppy movement of the circus mice dancing on top of red rubber balls. In a CGI world, the animation would look fluid and seamless. But is the very fact that the animation is imperfect that makes it perfect in so many ways. I cannot praise Selcik and his team for keeping this style of animation alive and well.
Regarding the age appropriateness of the film: I was paying close attention to the reactions of my two youngest (I sat close to them during the film, in the event that the suspense got a bit too much). My eight year old daughter was squirming a lot, especially during chase sequences, but that was expected. And my youngest, although he said he was not scared during the film, I think was a bit rattled by the more creepier sequences.
I was expecting the creepiness, but what took me by surprise was the theater sequence in the middle of the film that featured some rather - ahem - well endowed older ladies who were wearing close to nothing during the performance. Granted the characters were puppets, but that sequence was a bit uncomfortable for me to sit through with my younger kids. Luckily, the well-placed sequins did not fall off during the show.
I felt there is a very good teachable moment in the film. When Coraline enters the parallel universe, she falls in love with how different and wonderful the world seems to her. Only when she is pulled in too deep does she realize her mistaken judgement. I found this as good way to talk to the kids about good and evil and how sometimes the bad things are things that at first feel great and wonderful. It was easy for Coraline to be enticed because she was unhappy. And that's usually how evil works. When you're too deep in, you may find it hard to correct your path. Needless to say, it made for some interesting dinner conversation after the film.
All in all, I would have to say that Coraline is not the kind of family fare that you can attend and checkout mentally as a parent. But if you and your children are up for some good creepy fun and want to be visually entertained for 100+ minutes, Coraline is a definite must see. Also, I would hope the Blu-Ray will bring some cool special features, as I would LOVE to see more behind-the-scenes.