Laika Entertainment, the predominant stop-motion animation studio on our side of the Pond, has a charming new feature film out right now, Missing Link. So many awards and nominations have already piled up on Laika’s doorstep that it’s a bit of a shock to realize that only ten years have elapsed since its first full-length release came out. That was Coraline (2009), brought to the newly emerging production company by director Henry Selick. The project came about at the instigation of Neil Gaiman, author of the 2002 YA horror novel Coraline, who had admired the creepy-but-kid-friendly tone of Selick’s The Nightmare before Christmas (1993).
It was really Coraline, the movie version, that put Laika in the spotlight, so we have it to thank for the string of animated gems that followed: ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, Kubo and the Two Strings and now Missing Link. If somehow you haven’t yet gotten around to seeing it, or need a refresher, Upstate Films in Rhinebeck is offering an opportunity to catch Coraline on the big screen during this tenth-anniversary year. And there’s a special sweetener to this deal: Neil Gaiman, who these days lives in Woodstock (to the extent that the very busy author/producer/showrunner/spoken-word performer stays in any one place for long), will be present, live and in person, for a question-and-answer session following the 12:30 p.m. screening on Sunday, May 5. If you want tickets to this, best move fast.
Coraline is the tale of a spunky blue-haired girl named Coraline Jones whose family has just moved to an apartment in a quirky Victorian house, where the neighbors are decidedly odd. Coraline feels bored, homesick for her old friends and neglected by her parents, whose attentions are absorbed by home-based businesses. So she begins to explore, and soon discovers a mysterious bricked-up hidden door. One day it opens to her, leading through a sort of dimensional portal to a parallel world in which she meets her Other Mother and Other Father. They’re way cooler and more attentive than her real parents, and don’t force her to eat weird health foods; but they have buttons sewn on where their eyes ought to be.
Seduced at first by the more vivid and fun life she can lead in this otherworld, Coraline gradually uncovers the evil and danger that imbue it. With help from a sarcastic black cat and (in the movie version only) a neighbor boy, she must eventually confront the Other Mother – one of kid-lit’s most terrifying villains ever – in order to save herself, her parents and the trapped ghosts of three other children who once lived in the house from dreadful fates.
A worthy adaptation of a work by a modern master of unsettling narratives, the PG-rated Coraline delivers genuine chills, and is in some ways (looking at you, Miss Forcible and Miss Spinks) too visually alarming for very young children. But the lead character is an inspiring role model, especially for girls aged seven or so on up. And the animation is a visual treat for all ages, featuring the palpable, exquisitely detailed texture that has become Laika’s particular trademark.
This is a not-to-be-missed opportunity not only to see the movie, but also to pepper the story’s creator with your questions. Oblong Books, co-presenter of the event as part of Upstate’s Adaptations series, would be especially pleased if you came in beforehand to pick up a copy of the book. The novel is short – only 163 pages – so you still have time to read it before you go. Tickets cost $18 general admission, $15 for seniors and students, $12 for Upstate members and kids under age 16. To order, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4224999.
Coraline with Neil Gaiman, Sunday, May 5, 12:30 p.m., $18/$15/$12, Upstate Films, 6415 Montgomery St. (Rte. 9), Rhinebeck, (845) 876-2515, https://upstatefilms.org