Coraline is Henry Selicks return to feature-length stop-motion animation. The film is based on Coraline (2002), a novella by Neil Gaiman (which is published and sold as a standalone book). Gaiman emerged as a comic-book writer in the 1980s where he gained a cult reputation with the graphic novel The Sandman (1987-96) and then went onto publishing books with Good Omens (1990), Stardust (1998), American Gods (2001), Anansi Boys (2005), Interzone (2007), The Graveyard Book (2008), Odd and the Frost Giants (2008) and The Ocean at the End of the Lane (20130. Gaiman appeared on screen with an episode of tvs Babylon 5 (1992-7) and works like the fine tv mini-series Neverwhere (1996) set in a magical world that exists beneath the streets of London and the English-language screenplay for Princess Mononoke (1997), even two episodes of tvs Doctor Who (2005 ). The mid-00s have seen an upsurge in the popularity of Neil Gaimans works on the big screen with original screenplays like MirrorMask (2005), the animated Beowulf (2007) and the adaptation of his novels Stardust (2007), How to Talk to Girls at Parties (2017), the tv series American Gods (2017 ) and the tv mini-series Good Omens (2018).
Henry Selicks sensibilities are very different from mainstream studios likes Disney, DreamWorks or even Pixar and Coraline is decidedly different to any other work cluttering up the box-office in the name of childrens entertainment. Henry Selick banishes the cuteness, banal homilies and simplicities that these films operate under and especially rejects the notion that childrens films must come with a lack of complexity or dark adult emotions. Indeed, Selicks darker works like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline are in the odd position of being created as childrens films that never found the family audience they were initially sold to but discovered an afterlife where they were enjoyed more by adults. Rather than any animated adventure, Coraline resembles more the dark fantasies of works like Gaimans MirrorMask and Pans Labyrinth (2006) in which a portal opens the way into a darkly distorted mirror world that becomes a reflection of the real one and the heroines journey through this is an allegorical bildungsroman. Coraline eventually opts for the comfortable fantasy standard moral lesson of if something is too good to be true then it will be and that sometimes it is best to appreciate the things that one has in front of them rather than want for more. Nevertheless, the journey there is an amazingly vibrant, eccentric and darkly threatening one.
Henry Selicks design for Coraline is a work of art in itself. He creates a world that exists like something akin to Willy Wonkas factory redesigned along the aesthetic of Emily the Strange. The film comes laced with all manner of visuals puns the Other Father sits at what is a literal player piano that sprouts a pair of hands that play him; Coraline sits down to dinner where they are served by a literal gravy train. And everywhere else the film is a marvel of oddball eccentricities. A visit to the Other Mr Bobinsky contains cannons that fire cotton candy sticks and a chicken that poops readymade popcorn while eating from a rotating cob, as well as a delirious sequence with a dancing mouse orchestra. The Other Father mows the lawns by riding a mechanical praying mantis and then Selick pulls back to show he has built an entire moonlight garden in the shape of Coralines face. There is a marvellously creepy opening credits sequence with a set of animated metal needles stuffing and then sewing a doll together.
The marvel of Coraline sis the detail of Henry Selicks animation. Coraline had a shooting schedule that lasted for nearly a year-and-a-half, involving the construction of some 40 miniature sets. The scene in the theatre where the Scottie dogs watch the performance featured 248 dogs, all of which were individually animated one frame at a time. The work throughout is flawless indeed the highest compliment you could possibly pay Henry Selick is that did you not know otherwise, you could easily mistake Coraline for a work of computer animation.
The publicity machine makes much out of how Coraline was the first stop-motion animated feature to be made in 3D. Henry Selick avoids the pitfall of most 3D films that use the extra dimension as merely a gimmicky opportunity to throw things out into an audiences face. Instead, he uses it for the possibilities of dimensional animation, lighting up the appearance of the tunnel and especially the transformation of the moon garden into something wondrous.
Subsequent to this and without Henry Selick, Laika went on to build a reputation as a stop-motion company with the likes of ParaNorman (2012), The BoxTrolls (2014) and Kubo and the Two Strings (2016).