CORALINE (2008) vs. PARANORMAN (2012)
Before we get into the real meat of the showdown here, a little bit of backstory on our contenders:
CORALINE: Based on the Neil Gaiman book of the same name, wherein a bored little girl moves to a drippy new town and a drippier apartment building with her drippy botanist parents and some weird, obnoxious neighbors, and discovers a door in one room of her building that leads to a fantastical alternate version of her life and all the people in it, where everything is made just for her and everyone wants to entertain and love her, and everything is orchestrated by the chipper and mysterious Other Mother. This can't possibly go wrong.
PARANORMAN: A lonely little boy who can talk to ghosts discovers that he might be the only one who can keep an evil witch's 300-year-old curse from obliterating his tourist-trap town (which, incidentally, is famous for the colonial-era hanging of the same witch), and discovers some ugly secrets about human nature.
Even outside of the obvious (both psychedelic stop-motion features produced by Laika), they're pretty similar, as
- they're both about kids who feel pretty lonely and neglected, who have this other kinda sweet well-meaning kid following them around all the time trying to be pals
- they both have well-written, well-designed villains that are ACTUALLY SCARY
- they both have a compelling cast of secondary and tertiary characters, several of which (on both counts) do not actually exist
- I saw both of them at least four times in theaters (6 for Paranorman), and bought both of them the day they were released on DVD
- they're both NOT movies to take your small children to (seriously, every time I saw either at the theater, there were harried parents scrambling out of the theater clutching their screaming toddlers. PARENTS: "ANIMATED" DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY MEAN "KID'S MOVIE". DO SOME RESEARCH IF YOU WANT YOUR KIDS TO STAY NIGHTMARE-FREE. JESUS.)
- They're both completely gorgeous. Feasts for the eyes.
This TUESDAY THROWDOWN will consist of THREE ROUNDS:
ROUND 1: THE HEROES
ROUND 2: THE VILLAINS
ROUND 3: SUPPORTING CAST
and the FINAL SHOWDOWN, where the scores will be tallied, other factors taken into consideration, and a WINNER decided!
She does get better, though, once she starts wising up (surprisingly fast) to the Other Mother's schemes, and she steps up when her parents are taken. Turns out when Coraline isn't putting all of her energy into raising her parents' blood pressure and making the neighborhood kids cry, she's actually pretty smart (dare I say wily?), and in the end she outwits the Other Mother, gets her parents back, sets free all the souls of previous kids taken in by the OthMoth (the souls, by the way, being the first indicator that this wasn't a kid's movie, with permanently horrified faces etched in a silent scream and of course the buttons for eyes), AND gets a new cat out of the deal while learning a pretty standard lesson about Appreciating What You Have and Being Careful What You Wish For.
+1 for realism (bratty, smart, but also not afraid to admit when she's scared)
+2 for smarts
+3 for buckling down and getting shit done when she needed to
+1 for being from PONTIAC MICHIGAN REPRESENT
-1 because oh my God Coraline the kid hates his name and you don't even know him what is your PROBLEM
Coraline's Score: 7
PARANORMAN's titular character, Norman Babcock, is a kid you really just want to hug. He's a sweet kid and a good kid, but not so impossibly good as to practically be a saint like most child protagonists. Which is, can I say? SO NICE. With a family that's well past the point of tactfulness about his "gifts" (the bit at the beginning where his dad, upon being told that Grandma wants the heat turned up, screams "HOW MANY TIMES DO WE HAVE TO TELL YOU, NORMAN? YOUR GRANDMOTHER IS DEAD!" in his son's face comes to mind), a dedicated school bully and a nonexistent social life, you'd expect him to be written as kind of an insufferable little asshole. But he isn't! He's lonely and mopey, sure, but he's also smart, and he cares about people's feelings, and he'd honestly rather not have this whole seeing-dead-people-and-also-animals thing to deal with if it's going to get him shit and cause everybody around him trouble.
When we meet Norman he's starting to see some weird stuff around town and at school (objectively weirder than the stuff he usually sees), and this creepy uncle he hasn't ever been allowed to see following him around and then dying and showing up as a ghost in the boys' room at school, yelling about destinies and the witch's curse and how Norman's the only one who can stop it, and any other kid would probably freak out and run, but Norman figures, hey, makes as much sense as anything else in my life, and he decides to go with it. He's terrified, but he doesn't ask for help, or expect it. He just gets shit done. And at the end he teaches himself a really nice (and pretty different from most "kids' movie" lessons) lesson about how it's okay, and easy, to be angry and hate people for treating you like crap, but there are good people and good things in the world too, and it's important to remember that.
Also, did I mention you just want to hug him? Because really.
+1 for realism (sarcastic, mopey, but smart and endearing, and also not afraid to admit when he's scared)
+2 for not letting being scared stop him from doing what knows he has to do
+1 for being a sweetie
+3 for not only sympathizing with the big bad, but teaching her and himself a huge lesson
+1 for dealing with all the crap heaped on him and still being a well-adjusted, pretty optimistic individual
Norman's Score: 8
ROUND 2: THE VILLAINS
(Let it be known that I am a sucker for a sympathetic villain and good character design, and that both of these movies fully deliver.)
CORALINE: The "Other Mother" (or, the Beldam)
The Other Mother, unlike PARANORMAN's Agatha, is straight-up evil. Sure, you maybe feel a little bad for her, but that kinda gets balanced out by her being cunning, manipulative, and overall downright terrifying (and by that scene about 2/3s of the way through where you see the remains of her other victims, mentioned above). You're not sure where she comes from, who she is, if she's ever really existed, or if she even really exists now. Throughout the movie she warps from a spot-on replica of Coraline's sweet (if snippy) Real Mother, to a cracked, hunched, furious Black Widow; all of her illusions and affections are a means to an end (ie, Coraline coming to stay with the Other Mother forever, symbolized by sewing the iconic buttons into her eyes), and when her schemes begin unraveling, her ugly starts coming out. Not used to the competition, she flails farther and farther out in an attempt to win Coraline one way or the other.
+3 for being legit terrifying
+1 for ambiguity (you're never sure if she wants Coraline as a companion or as, say, dinner)
+1 for being a formidable female villain with smarts and cunning
+2 for excellent character design/theme
Other Mother's Score: 7
PARANORMAN: Agatha Prenderghast (Aggie for short, or, The Witch)
I am also a sucker for a well done kid villain, and Aggie is probably my favorite movie villain ever. She's just so good. She gets a full origin story in the span of about thirty seconds, is sympathetic, and is also pretty damn scary. This is the first time in 300 years that she's gotten to wreak the mayhem and vengeance she promised her small town when they hanged her for "consorting with the dead" (oh, by the way? Agatha is related to Norman through his mom's side of the family, and shares aforementioned creepy uncle's last name), and she isn't going back in the ground without a fight. She spends most of the movie in the sky, as a swirling green-and-purple cloud in the shape of a stereotypical witch's face, but in the climax of the movie, she is a commanding presence: snarling, feral, hurling lightning at Norman and throwing him into trees, cracking the ground open and rearranging the world, splitting in twos and threes as she tries not to listen to him. Aggie, though only eleven, is a formidable villain in her own right. And even better, she gets redeemed at the end.
+3 for, again, legit scary
+3 for impeccable character design
+1 for being a commanding female villain with smarts and cunning (plus a bonus point for only being eleven years old)
+2 for good backstory
+2 for kicking everybody's asses all over the place and actually making her aggressors the villains (the zombies, not discussed)
+1 for character redemption/moral
Aggie's Score: 13
ROUND THREE: SUPPORTING CAST
CORALINE: Supporting CastWYBIE: To be frank, Real Wybie kinda sucks. He's super into slugs and thinks Coraline is a witch when he first meets her (immediately after running her down on his motorbike while wearing an awful skull mask in the rain), and also doesn't believe Coraline when she tells him about the Other Mother and that whole business. Other Wybie is pretty cool though, as he talks a lot less (read: not at all) and tries to save her despite being created, and slowly destroyed, by the Other Mother.
CORALINE'S PARENTS: Coraline's Real Parents are pretty boring, at least by kid standards, but they are realistic parents. Her mom's moods range from "a little stressed but trying to compromise" to "oh my God I'm going to throw this kid out the window", and her dad is pretty chill. You find yourself liking them a lot. And it doesn't hurt that Coraline's dad is the guy from They Might Be Giants.
MS. SPINK and MS. FORCIBLE: SO COOL! Both versions! Real Spink and Forcible are retired actresses with a thing for Scottish terriers (living and dead) and showing each other up; Other Spink and Other Forcible are sassy young performers quoting Shakespeare as they leap through the air. Not much development, but they're fun. At least, until they turn into big screeching piles of saltwater taffy. Still! Fun!
MR. BOBINSKY: For a retired circus performer who spends his days teaching mice to play the TV, Mr B is surprisingly creepy! (/sarcasm) Other Mr. B is also creepy but at least wears a suit instead of a dirty singlet. He would get a pass if he didn't turn into an actual pile of rats later. (Not a kid's movie!)
THE CAT: Sarcastic cryptic cat voiced by Keith David! What else can I say. A+.
8 points for the supporting cast of CORALINE, some of whom suck but most of whom are great, or at least interesting to look at!
PARANORMAN: Supporting CastNEIL: Neil is great. He gets beat up probably just as much about Norman, but it doesn't really bug him. He sticks up for Norman a couple times, and stands by him when no one else will! He's a remarkably secure little boy who's pretty happy with his place in life; there's a scene where Norman is asking Neil why people pick on him so much, and Neil responds matter-of-factly, almost happily, with, "Because I'm fat, and my allergies make my eyes leak, and I sweat when I walk too fast, and I have a lunchbox with a kitten on it. Oh! And I have irritable bowl syndrome. I guess there's a whole bunch of stuff!" Neil is great.
MITCH and COURTNEY: Neil's older brother Mitch might be stupid, but he's sweet, and he's probably the only movie brother I've ever seen who is a jock AND treats his uncool little brother well. He's also gay, and not defined by it, so that's cool! Norman's older sister Courtney is, unfortunately, a dick, but she does love her little brother and steps up when it's needed.
NORMAN'S PARENTS: I like Mr. and Mrs. Babcock. They're stereotypically different (Norman's dad is kind of a "just your average guy" "man's man" kinda dad, while his mom is flaky and a vague sort of hippie) but it's believable, and while they both want the best for their kid, they want different things, and they're both kind of at their wit's end as to what to do about it.
NORMAN'S GRANDMA: The first ghost Norman talks to in the movie, Norman's paternal grandmother doesn't resent Norman for keeping her from the afterlife because he needs her. She gives him strength! And she's voiced by the lovely Elaine Stritch, queen of my heart.
10 points for the supporting cast of PARANORMAN, all of whom are great with no exceptions.
THE FINAL SHOWDOWN
Score So Far: CORALINE, 22; PARANORMAN, 31
BOTH MOVIES RECEIVE:
1 point for being visually stunning
2 points for not underestimating kids, and for treating them like real people
1 point for having rich casts of characters
2 points for inventing Wybie, who was not in the book, and receiving Neil Gaiman's blessing
-1 point for making up bad Michigander slang
1 point for a breakdancing bully
1 point for John Goodman (Norman's creepy uncle)
1 point for a lightning-themed villain
1 point because I just love this movie so so so much
FINAL TALLY: CORALINE, 27; PARANORMAN, 38
Paranorman obviously wins, but don't let that stop you from seeing Coraline if you haven't already! They're both great movies, and both totally worth seeing.
I hope you all enjoyed my first post as an official movie blogger! I'll see you all Friday, when I break down Pretty In Pink from the perspective of James Spader.