Coraline (2009)

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Food: This week I ventured slightly northwest of the Union Square area to a Spanish spot called “Sala One Nine” for their happy hour. For only $8, I got a large pour of red Belezos Tempranillo, (Rioja Alavesa 2014), which was fruity and light, and an order of Pinchos (sliced bread) with wild sautéed mushrooms, shallots, thyme, brie cheese. The order came with two light, hearty and flavorful pieces for only $7. A steal! There was also a live flamenco dancer.

Film: “Coraline” (2009) is a creation of Henry Selick (who made “The Nightmare Before Christmas” with Tim Burton), and this film, similarly, is a nightmare of another world. We meet young Coraline Jones, a blue haired and butterfly clipped bored young girl (played by Dakota Fanning), as she mopes around her new home, complaining and attempting to get the attention of her distracted and uninterested parents. She is typical of girls her age, a preteen looking for adventure, unable to find her place. She reminds me, initially of the young Chihiro that we saw in Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” (2001).

That is, until, she discovers while in a dream-state, that a small hidden door, which she found previously, actually leads to an alternate universe that appears to be a better, more-suited-to-her-interests version of her own life. Her mother and father write about gardening, but do not want to bother with getting dirty, to Coraline’s chagrin. They are immersed in work, as it is clear they are trying to meet a deadline. Conversely, in the alternative world, she has an Other Mother and Other Father, who prioritize their daughter above all else. Other Mother cooks her favorite meals. Other Father plays piano and gardens tirelessly. He even creates a mountain of flowers that replicate Coraline’s face.

As she continues to interact with her neighbors in real life, she ends up finding them in her Other world, new and improved. A neighborhood boy named Wybie, who typically bothers her by talking to much, arrives without the ability to talk. Her upstairs neighbor who flounders around as a failed circus performer, in Other world, puts on a fantastic cirque de solei with acrobatic mice. Her downstairs neighbors, a pair of washed up actresses, fly high on the trapeze, shedding their old skin and become beautiful, young and triumphant.

However, as expected, this is not all that it seems. In order to remain in this universe, she is asked to give up her eyes in exchange for buttons. In an instant, the entire world becomes warped and frightening, and the exciting facade melts away. This film is genuinely disturbing at times, in the bewitching aesthetic that defines Selick’s films (as well as Burton’s – although, note that Burton did not participate in this one). It is a touching story, with a lesson about loving and appreciating where you are at, and not assuming the grass is greener, woven within the plot.

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