I did get to see Coraline yesterday. Funny story--we accidentally sat in a theater that was showing Confessions of a Shopaholic. I've read the Shopaholic books (well, most of them--I think I dropped out somewhere around Shopaholic and Baby), and I would frankly expect a movie like Bridget Jones Diary. I had already decided not to see the movie once I realized it looked more like Legally Blonde. But here's the thing: the previews leading up to the movie would probably have been okay for a Coraline audience. There were kids in the Shopaholic audience. There was a Hannah Montana trailer, and kids cheered. I'm a little confused, because, frankly, Shopaholic is all about money--it's about spending so much on a handbag that you can't pay your electric bill, not being able to get credit, and having to take a second and third job to get out of debt. Don't get me wrong, the book is funny. But I just didn't think it was aimed at kids. ANYway, once the pumps came on the screen, we fled the theater and ran to Coraline, having missed only the trailers (I really wonder what they were) and the opening credits.
I thought it was terrific--thrilling and full of personality, and an instant classic if you're either a non-parental adult or a parent seeking to raise your kid with any sort of point of view not sanctioned by the Disney empire. I'm not a parent, so I can't say for sure what age it's appropriate for (I'm pretty sure this depends heavily on the particular child in question), but the kids in our 2 p.m. audience seemed to have a blast. (When Coraline goes through a door after she's been warned not to, one little girl shouted, "No, don't!" but I don't think it was a trauma-related utterance so much as an indication of how sucked into the story she was. I mean, they haven't banned panto in England yet, and this is sort of the expected audience reaction there.)
Possible causes for parental alarm include the "darkness" of the whole story (no worse than Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz, and the entire contents of Grimm's fairy tales), the stage attire of some aging (and voluptuous) performers who live in Coraline's apartment building,* and (apparently--I can't say I noticed) a tendency on the part of young Coraline to take the Lord's name in vain.
I thought it was right up there with the Wizard of Oz as a good "the grass is always greener" tale for kids and adults, with a distinctly Grimm (not grim) slant to it--villains lie and manipulate, appearances deceive, and snap judgments aren't always the most reliable ones we make. The Wizard of Oz was on my mind because of Henry Selick's charming interview on NPR, where he said he'd been looking for a project that would afford him the opportunity to take his audience from one world into another the way that film takes us from black-and-white into color. The effect in Coraline was beautiful--more beautiful than the Wizard of Oz because it wasn't part of my expectation from earliest childhood.
But I think my favorite part of Coraline is the idea that context is everything--not to say that there isn't such a thing as good and evil, but just that our ability to recognize evil and value good is so dependent on our fragile ability to frame it all in the right light (or darkness) so that we see the truth rather than what we want to see. I don't know many adults who can't handle a good story to bring that home every now and again.
*would their attire be suitable for viewing by 4-year-olds if they were Hannah Montana? I'm just asking...