Coraline, The Secret of Moonacre

Coraline, The Secret of Moonacre

Note: Four new films hit Prague screens from June 11th; despite being filmed in English, they´re all being screened locally only in Czech-dubbed versions (late note: Coraline is, in fact, screening in English with Czech subtitles at Village Cinemas Anděl). Opening wide is The Case of Unfaithful Klara (showtimes | IMDb), an Italian-produced comedy filmed in Prague and starring Laura Chiatti, Iain Glen, and Anna Geislerová, based on a novel by popular Czech author Michal Viewegh. Also opening is Hannah Montana: The Movie (showtimes | IMDb), an extension of the immensely popular kids´ show starring Miley Cyrus. And lastly, we have Coraline (screened in 3-D in select cinemas) and The Secret of Moonacre, which are reviewed below.

Coraline
Rating:

Directed by Henry Selick. With the voices of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, John Hodgman, Robert Bailey Jr., Ian McShane, Aankha Neal, George Selick, Hannah Kaiser, Harry Selick, Marina Budovsky, Emerson Hatcher, Jerome Ranft. Written by Henry Selick, from the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman.


A wonderful little animated feature from the Neil Gaiman graphic novel, Coraline marks director Henry Selick´s return to feature-length animation following a decade-plus absence. The director – whose work has always been highly original and instantly recognizable – has never really gotten his due; Tim Burton seems to have absorbed much of the credit for Selick´s The Nightmare Before Christmas, while his excellent adaptation of Roald Dahl´s James and the Giant Peach never really received the following it should have. But Coraline – which is just as good as the aforementioned films – should change this.



Like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline is a kids´ film on the surface, nightmare fodder underneath. Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) moves with her distant parents to a remote house in a wooded area where it´s always cloudy or raining. Mom and Dad both work for a garden catalogue, and have little time for their daughter or sympathy for her boredom. Coraline meets oddball Wybie, whose grandmother owns the house, his feral cat, and her strange neighbors, a Russian acrobat who trains mice and two elderly former actresses.

But she yearns for more. And so, one night, she follows a hopping mouse down the rabbit hole, or in this case, the mysterious, painted-over mini-door hidden in the living room. On the other side she finds a parallel universe where everyone has buttons for eyes. They´re nicer, too, including her ‘other mother´, who gives Coraline whatever she desires, and her neighbors, who put on spectacular shows. But, of course, everything is not as it seems.

Gaiman´s novel draws its inspiration from classic fantasy tales (Alice in Wonderland, particularly) and Selick´s screenplay does it justice.

But Selick´s animation makes the film. Vivid, inventive, and wildly imaginative, it´s an often beautiful merger between the director´s classic stop-motion animation and a more fluid computer-generated style. My favorite sequence: Coraline and a feline friend walk to the edge of the ‘other´ world, and then, just like Daffy Duck, right off of it and into a blank screen.

Most kids´ films play it safe these days, but it´s refreshing to see something like Coraline, offbeat and peculiar and downright creepy at times. The plot is nothing that Disney hasn´t touched upon, but the style and details transcend conventional bounds. It´s the kind of movie you see at a young age and never forget.

Note: the above review refers to the 2-D version of the film.

Also note: Coraline is screening in a Czech-dubbed version on most Prague screens, but you can catch it in English (with Czech subtitles at Village Cinemas Anděl.

***


 

The Secret of Moonacre
Rating:

Directed by Gabor Csupo. Starring Ioan Gruffudd, Dakota Blue Richards, Tim Curry, Natascha McElhone, Juliet Stevenson, Augustus Prew, Andy Linden, Michael Webber, Zoltán Barabás Kis, George Mendel. Written by Graham Alborough, Lucy Shuttleworth, from the novel by Elizabeth Goudge.

In the wake of the popularity of the Harry Potter films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, we´ve been treated to a number of (mostly) family-friendly adaptations of popular fantasy works. While the budgets vary, most of these films have run a steady range of mediocrity, from the Chronicles of Narnia movies and The Golden Compass to The Spiderwick Chronicles and Gabor Csupo´s Bridge to Teribithia. Csupo´s latest, The Secret of Moonacre, skews towards the bottom of this range.

Moonacre, based on the acclaimed novel The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, doesn´t have much going for it: meandering and dull, it´s half a rich fantasy along the lines of Stardust, while the other half is afraid to fully dive in. The result is film that never really creates the vibrant fantasy world intended in the source, and fails to draw us in.

19th Century England: Dakota Blue Richards stars as Maria, a young girl who´s just been orphaned after the death of her father, left in the care of her nurse, Miss Heliotrope (Juliet Stevenson). The two travel to live with Maria´s uncle, Sir Benjamin (Ioan Gruffudd), at Moonacre, a remote country estate. En route, Maria begins to read a book that her father left her: the story of Moonacre, involving two families, magical pearls, a black lion and a unicorn. Or some such nonsense that´s given so little screen time that we fail to get a grasp on it, let alone get involved in it.

Richards is actually pretty good in the lead, though she´s almost as stiff as the adult cast. Gruffudd and Natasha McElhorne and Tim Curry are strangely restrained and colorless, even when the script seems to call for humor from them.

I haven´t read the novel by Goudge, but I have to doubt it contained antagonists in bowler hats and mascara, rejects from Alex´s crew in A Clockwork Orange. And characters named Digweed and Miss Heliotrope, and references to “arsenuggets”, may have read differently on the page (if present at all), but feel hopelessly out-of-place when spoken by this humorless cast.

Note: The Secret of Moonacre is only screening in a Czech-dubbed version on Prague screens.


Jason Pirodsky

Hailing from Syracuse, New York, Jason Pirodsky made his way to Prague via Miami and has stuck around, for better and worse, since 2004. A member of the Online Film Critics Society (www.ofcs.org), some of his favorite movies include O Lucky Man!, El Topo, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Hellzapoppin'. Follow him on Twitter for some (slightly) more concise reviews.

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