Wow! I was dazzled by Coraline, the stop-motion feature film debut of Portland’s own Laika Studios. The film is a vivid 100 minutes of imagination and craftsmanship, and I highly recommend it.
Full disclosure: I love stop-motion animation. I grew up watching Claymation Christmas and Easter specials, Nightmare Before Christmas and, perhaps most beloved to me, Wallace & Gromit. While Pixar remains my favorite contemporary animation studio, they are the exception, not the rule—give me a good stop-motion flick over CGI any day of the week. I love the warmth and spontaneity of it, that spectacular combination of enthralling dimensionality coupled with a sense of humanity akin to stylized 2-D work.
Unfortunately, I’ve been let down by the last few stop-motion features I’ve seen. While Chicken Run and the Wallace & Gromit movie were entertaining, they fell short of the magic established in Nick Park’s shorter films. The Corpse Bride was strangely disjointed and shallow, especially in comparison to Tim Burton’s earlier work. My hope is that this film will inspire studios to reach for a new level of excellence and polish; they’ve certainly set the bar.
The storyline will appeal to Burton fans, with an iconoclastic lead, quirky character designs and twisted-gray sets. That being said, Laika have successfully carved their own niche. I’ve never seen characters as expressive and detailed in a stop-motion feature (even their clothes are stunning) and the sets, full of detail and emotion themselves, are perhaps even more impressive. The pace of the film is rather leisurely in comparison to most contemporary animation, which allows the viewer to really absorb the depth of these scenes.
I’d elaborate on specific points of the film I found impressive but I’d hate to give anything away. In my opinion this is the best stop-motion movie since Nightmare Before Christmas and the best feature since Wall-E. Go see it!