Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Coraline the movie

I saw this last night, in glorious 3D, with special specs, such as I haven't used since I was a child. Not the cardboard framed, one red, one green lens effort of back then but something more like regular shades. We must have been quite a cool-looking audience; in fact the photographer from Laika took a picture of us all specced up.

It was a visually stunning realisation of a book that just begged to be made into a film.

At first it was a bit of a shock to hear Dakota Fanning voicing Coraline but of course it made good economic sense for her to be American and it's an American film company. The second shock was the arrival of a character who doesn't appear in the book - Wyborne (Wybie) Lovat - whose grandmother owns the house.
He serves two functions: a sounding board for Coraline, who would otherwise have had to spend a lot of time talking to herself and someone for the boy viewers to identify with.

Once past these changes, I was struck by the film's fidelity to the book. They both have the very strong USP of the little girl who goes through a door in the wall of her parents' new apartment and finds an alternative mother and father in the one next door.

At first they seems a refreshing change, since they actually have time for Coraline, as well as cooking her favourite food and creating a wonderful garden for her to play in. This is in direct contrast with her real parents, who spend all their time at their computers, expecting Coraline to amuse herself.

But at least her real parents have real eyes! Other-mother and Other-father have buttons sewn in where they should have theirs. And Other-mother, who is rapidly revealed as the mastermind behind Coraline's Other-home, says she can perform the same little adjustment for Coraline as a condition of her staying in the preferable flat for ever.

That's when Coraline decides she would rather have her original life. "The needle's so sharp, it won't hurt" is Other-father's idea of reassurance.

The set-pieces are quite spectacular: a hundred blossoms really do bloom in Other-garden - and multiply exponentially; the mouse circus sequence is a tour-de-force of Busby Berkeley-ish exuberance and the scenes towards the end when the Evil Mother's powers are challenged and her elaborate traps demolished are visually stunning.

The grotesques that are Coraline's neighbours in both worlds - Miss Spink and Mis Forcible (voiced by French and Saunders) and Mr Bobinsky (Ian McShane) - are really OTT grotesque. And there are two things that work better "visually" in the book. One is the scene, in the cellar in the original, where Coraline finds that the concept of Other Father has been unravelled by the Beldam. He tries to warn the girl but is unable to stop himself from attempting to hurt her. In the movie, he charges towards her on his mechanical preying mantis in the garden and collapses through a bridge. It's spectacular but doesn't compare with the creeping sinister, clutching, open- mouthed, eyeless figure in the cellar.

The other is that the Beldam's hand, which gets in through the door in the wall, is in the film a kind of spindly metal scurrying thing. But you don't really need to make Neil Gaiman more scary; that severed hand with the red-painted fingernails is quite horrific enough.

I'm also sorry that it's Wybie who crushes the hand at the end. Bring in a boy if you must but don't let him take anything away from Coraline's heroism and resourcefulness; in Gaiman's orginal she lures the hand to its destruction by a trick that requires a cool brain more than a hot head.

But these are quibbles. It's a spectacular film and a triumph for the animators at Laika who spent four years lovingly creating every detail. It will linger in the mind a long time, so be careful what child you take to see it. Not for those under ten and/or of a nervous disposition.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

The long, the short and the confusing

Here they are: Henrietta Branford in colour and Wendy Boase in Black and white. Their names are commemorated in the Branford Boase Award whose shortlist has just been published. It is a prize for a first book for children or teenagers and not only the author but the editor of it.

Before we get on to the shortlisted authors and editors, a word or two more about the women in whose memory they are being honoured. Henrietta was a writer, who produced two dozen book, from picturebooks to novels in the round about thirteen years she had from her "late start" at the age of forty till she was lost to breast cancer.

Wendy Boase was a charismatic editor at Walker Books, one of the founder members with Sebastian Walker and Art Editor Amelia Edwards, who had edited Henrietta Branford's work. They died within weeks of each other in 1999, Boase also a cancer victim, and the award was set up in their joint names. This is the tenth year.

The first winner was Katherine Roberts, who later wrote the magnificent I am the Great Horse, and others over the years have been Marcus Sedwick, Meg Rosoff and Frances Hardinge.

This year's shortlist is a bit confusing. Here it is:

The Traitor Game by B.R.Collins edited by Emma Matthewson, Bloomsbury
The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt, edited by Bella Pearson, David Fickling Books
Flood Child by Emily Diamand (formerly Reavers' Ransom) edited by Imogen Cooper of Chicken House
Between Two Seas by Marie-Louise Jensen, edited by Liz Cross of OUP
Bloodline by Katy Moran, edited by Denise Johnstone-Burt of Walker Books
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, edited by Denise Johnstone-Burt of Walker Books
Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls, edited by Marion Lloyd of Marion Lloyd Books

Last year's winning writer was Jenny Downham, whose Before I Die was reviewed in many places alongside Sally Nicholls' book because they were both about main characters with fatal illnesses. Sally's book won the Waterstone's award.

But Before I Die was shortlisted for the Guardian Award, which Patrick Ness won with The Knife of Never Letting Go. Marie-Louise Jensen's Between Two Seas was on the shortlist for the Waterstone's award that Sally Nicholls' book won but Marie-Louise's second book, The Lady in the Tower, has also already been also on the shortlist for this year's Waterstone's prize.

Which is all another way of saying that all children's book prizes have different eligibility dates. It would be wonderful if they all, regardless of when the prizes were decioded and presented, covered the same time period!

Anyway, this is a list full of stonking good books, well worthy of the women whose work it commemorates and I don't envy the judges their task.