Animated Shorts #590: Coraline, Watchmen, and more

New one-sheet poster from Henry Selic's 3D stop-motion animated adaptation of Neil Gaiman

Animated Shorts #590

CORALINE: Collector’s Edition

(2 DVDS) (Focus/Universal)

THE WATCHMEN: Director’s Cut

(2 DVDs) (WB)

When it comes to a movie’s popular acceptance, joining a list of "classics" including Disney’s Fantasia, Citizen Kane, It’s a Wonderful Life and modern classics like Nightmare Before Christmas is one of the highest accolades it can receive. Some movies, however, take a longer time to reach this position.

Director Henry Selick knows this particularly well. He directed Nightmare. He directed two other underappreciated masterworks, James & the Giant Peach and Monkeybone.

So guess what? He has another late blooming work of genius with his latest effort, the cinematic adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s kids novel Coraline.

For the record, Coraline was released domestically on February, 2009. According to Box Office Mojo, it cost $60 million to produce, and did $75 million at the box office domestically, $114 when you add in overseas. Not small potatoes, but Coraline made no where near what McDonald’s makes on a day with their large order of fries. At the same time, Selick cooks up a more substantive meal, one that includes mango milk shakes and lots of gravy on the mashies. It will leave its viewers satisfied for days to come.

In an interview held earlier last year, Gaiman openly admitted that he and Selick collaborated on the script of this movie. There are a lot more changes to the novel the two introduced than just the addition of the character of Wyborn (Robert Bailey Jr.) and his grandmother (Carolyn Crawford). As Selick points out in the comments, if he followed the book note for note, page for page, the film would have been a whopping 41 minutes. That being the case, the film wouldn’t have even qualified as a feature.

What truly sets the film apart is Selick and Gaiman added so much to this 101 minute film and make it feel like it was cut from the same cloth of the original story. The greatly expanded roles of Bobinsky, Forcible and Spink (masterfully voiced by Ian McShane, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, by the way) feel like they were cribbed out of Gaiman’s own notes. How the Other Mother was also turned into the “beldam” is something you'd expect to find if you poked around the author’s head, too. By the time Selick was finished with his adaptation, coupled with Teri Hatcher’s surprisingly solid voice work (for a rookie), he made this Other Mother one truly nasty piece of work.

Additionally, the movie fascinates in just how sophisticated Selick’s particular brand of stop motion has become. Usually a “making of” doc on a movie is about as entertaining as watching paint dry. Yes, Coraline has its own, and at times it’s as entertaining as a text book on accounting. Then there are other parts, at least for stop motion fans, that show just what kind of preparation and how thorough Selick’s stop motion technique truly is.

I would have loved to have seen a true breakdown of the mouse circus sequence in the Other World. In the commentary, Selick openly admits it’s an open homage to the late master George Pal. It would have been truly fascinating to compare Selick’s sequence to one of Pal’s MGM shorts. But that’s not here (at least not yet).

In all, one really should be glad that the original Coraline made as much money as it did. By Hollywood standards, this Selick production missed paying for itself by $6 million. No doubt this DVD release will put the film squarely in the black. The numbers will start pouring in as you read this.

Now, while Henry Selick is more than a tad familiar with late-recognized masterworks, Zach Snyder is probably feeling the first sting of such back-handed accolades. It’s not that the man didn’t put one truly heroic effort into making The Watchmen. Actually, now looking at the final DVD, it was truly superheroic.

The numbers, again thanks BoxOfficeMojo, of the March 2009 release, show it cost $130 million to produce, made $107 million domestically; and $185 million when international box office is mixed in. Even though the film technically made $55 million over its initial cost, this is considered a loser.

Quite honestly, one advantage of having the DVD over a film screening is the ability to play back key scenes over and over again. Under such microscopic examination, is just what titanic effort went into its animated and visual FX. If Dr. Manhattan alone doesn’t convince you there’s truly some groundbreaking 3D work on the screen in front of you, then his Crystal Palace on the planet Mars certainly should. Supervising effects director DJ Des Jardins (X-Men: Last Stand, Matrix: Revolution/Reloaded, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) exceeded all his previous work on this film. It also put animation studio Sony Imageworks in the same league as Pixar, Lucasfilm and very few others.

Overall, while the acting was competent, there were some that truly stood above the rest. Most deserving of wider recognition was Stephen McHattie as the original Nite Owl/Hollis Mason. The same could be said for both Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in their respective roles as Rorschach and the Comedian. It is interesting to think on where Billy Crudup’s role as Dr. Manhattan ends and the special effects start.

Also, for the record, the new ending Snyder created made a lot more sense for a film than the original Alan Moore did back in 1985. Somehow, the idea of New York City being wiped out by the mental blast from gigantic cuttlefish was one of the biggest anti-climaxes Moore ever conceived. What Ozymandia (Matthew Goode) pulls on Manhattan is much more profound and insidious.

While Snyder made changes to basic plot points of the Moore/Gibbons book, he kept exceedingly true to the spirit. Watchmen is a truly cautionary tale of what could happen when the public abandons its privacy and more from one set of authority figures to an even worse set.

We shouldn’t be surprised if this film is another recognized classic in the very, very near future.


VIZ Media will publish a series of new books based on Ponyo, the new animated film from Studio Ghibli and world-renowned animation legend Hayao Miyazaki. The film goes into limited distribution on August 14.

They will offer the official 4-volume full-color film comic, a picture book and The Art Of Ponyo, which presents a comprehensive collection of original art, sketches, character designs and storyboards from the film.

Ponyo is Miyazaki’s retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Little Mermaid.” It tells the adventures of little fish-girl named Ponyo, whose father happens to be a great sorcerer of the seas. Trapped in a jar during one of her escapades, she washes ashore where five-year-old Sosuke releases her and renames her Ponyo. In an effort to stay close to her new friend, Ponyo tries to transform herself into a human, causing a great imbalance between their two worlds. A subtle message of the unfathomable threads that connect all forms of life is woven artfully throughout this enchanting film. 

 “Hayao Miyazaki is without question Japan’s most celebrated animation director, and we are privileged and extremely excited to announce the release of this new collection of titles in support of his newest film,” says Gozalo Ferreyra, VP Sales & Marketing, VIZ Media. “The film garnered rave reviews and grossed more than $165 million during its initial theatrical run in Japan, making it that country’s highest grossing movie for 2008. In an age of computer graphics, Miyazaki made a very bold choice to animate this film by hand. As domestic audiences have come to know and love this creative visionary, we look forward to them discovering Ponyo and this new collection of impressive releases from VIZ Media!”


Anchor Bay and Rough Trade Animation announced Rob Zombie’s long overdue The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on September 22, 2009. A longtime pet project of Zombie (based on his comic book), El Superbeasto, is an ultra-hip, wickedly funny fantasy that blends Fritz the Cat, Scooby-Doo, Ren and Stimpy, luchidore and other acts of bestiality into one flick. It is “Adults Only” animation…although we all know lots of minors will get their hands on it.

The film is the twisted tale of El Superbeasto (Tom Papa), a former world class masked wrestler with super human strength. He now finds himself in the very ordinary capacity as producer/director/star of BeastoWorld Enterprises. But when he can, Beasto spends time fighting evil along with his with his super-sexy sister, Suzi X (Sheri Moon Zombie), in the spooky Monsterland.

Our hefty hero faces his biggest battle when he struggles to stop the unholy marriage of foul-mouthed stripper Velvet Von Black (Rosario Dawson) and the diabolical Dr. Satan (Paul Giamatti). Will all hell break loose or will our man save the day? The answer can only be found in this mix of depraved adventure, filthy comedy, ultra-violence, and some bad-ass theme songs!

Honestly, how can you say no to that?

NEXT COLUMN: One of his first jobs was as Grimlock. At this year’s San Diego Comic Con he sat next to the legendary June Foray, playing Boris Badanoff to her Natasha Fatale. Who are we talking about? Find out this Thursday.

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