Do you ever have those moments when you’re watching a film where you can’t put your finger on what it is that’s not working for you? That was me through the entire second half of Henry Selick’s gorgeously animated adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s book Coraline. It’s a shame, because up until that point I had been sucked in completely. There were even a couple of moments where I caught myself, mouth wide open, staring up at the screen. No, I didn’t see this in 3-D because, frankly, I don’t give a damn about that headache-inducing gimmick. 2-D works just fine for the rich, atmospheric, and beautifully crafted world that is presented to us. Given that, it’s fairly obvious that my problems with the film are not with the visuals.
The story seemed to be a fairly straightforward adaptation of the book, which I remember enjoying a great deal when I read it a few years ago. It resembles a modern day fairy tale, short and to the point with a nice little moral to the story. Is that enough to make the transition to a feature film? Not quite. After a while I started to feel like the story was missing something substantial, the veggies and the potatoes are great but where is the meat? I hardly connected with the character of Coraline and because of that I stopped caring. My gaping mouth of awe turned to tight-lipped befuddlement as the film slowly lost my interest.
I think the majority of this can be attributed to the voice acting itself. Yes, they are recognizable names and voices; but that means next to nothing if they can’t engage the audience. I felt virtually no emotion from any of them. In fact, the only person that stood out was Ian McShane as Mr. Bobinsky. Dakota Fanning does little more than sound like a whiny kid and I never once sensed her growth as a character. Compare that to someone like Chihiro from Spirited Away, which I still consider to be the best example of character development I’ve ever seen. Sadly the voice acting seems to be in line with the current trend of all animated films Hollywood is churning out these days. Thankfully we still have Hayao Miyazaki.
The film is stunning to look at, but there’s not enough going on underneath to leave me satisfied.