Good times never seemed so good

buttons.jpgFor some reason (probably because I was conflating it with Stardust), I didn’t expect Coraline to make a big dent in the box office. I thought it was going to be one of those relatively low-key indie movies where fans go on for years about how ingenious it was and complain that “most Americans” just didn’t get it.

So I didn’t bother to buy tickets in advance, and I was surprised to get to the theater and find every showing sold out, with lines stretching through the building trying to get in. Which is great, because any time imagination and pure craftsmanship gets rewarded is a good thing. (And because I did manage to get in to see the movie, in Emeryville).

The reviews have been pretty positive, and not only do I disagree with the negative ones, I think they’re doing people a real disservice. A common theme is that the movie is “too scary for little children,” which is both missing the point since the movie’s already rated PG, and also typifies the common Reviewer Arrogance of making assumptions about what other people are going to like. In the case of a “kids’ movie” (which this shouldn’t be labeled as, anyway), it’s particularly ridiculous — who in their 30s outside of a videogame company could’ve predicted that stuff like “Naruto” and Yu-gi-oh and even Pokemon would be so huge?

And of course, it misses the point that kids are both more and less resilient than an adult can predict or remember. When I was the Coraline-viewing age (I’m estimating around 8 or 9 is the youngest age you’d be able to really appreciate the movie), some of the most benign stuff left me scared witless, and other stuff I took with no problem. Misguided coddling of kids doesn’t do anything but raise a generation of the naive and easily offended. The movie’s got its dark moments, to be sure, but it’s in the tradition of Roald Dahl (which I’m pretty confident is intentional).

Seeing it in 3D is definitely the way to go. It’s not the gimmick you might expect; it really does add a feeling of depth to the whole thing that’s perfect for stop-motion animation. Seeing Coraline discover a tunnel to the other world is one of the strongest images in the entire movie, and watching it expand away from you in 3D gives it the feeling of a cross between the opening of a Warner Brothers cartoon and Vertigo that’s just fantastic.

It also gives the whole movie the feeling of a View-Master reel brought to life. Which is a big part of what I liked so much about Coraline: it literally feels like an “instant classic.” It has so many scenes and ideas that are vaguely reminiscent of stories and movies from your childhood, combined with things that insist that it’s contemporary (the VW Beetle enshrouded in fog is another inexplicably memorable image). Its greatest achievement is that it feels like it’s drawing from a well of greater memory — there are so many allusions to other fairy tales and children’s stories, without its ever feeling like just a rehash or survey or re-interpretation. It’s its own thing, and you’re not likely to forget it.

So congrats to Graham and everybody else who worked on the movie; I think it’s going to be one of those rare examples of art that sticks with the audience for the rest of their lives.