In an age when cartoons are built around pristine computer-generated images and packed with jokes, Henry Selick still makes animation the old fashioned way -- by hand, and scary.
Ben Simon of Animated-Views.com credits Selick as inventor "of a whole sub-genre" of stop-motion [models] animation -- animation's dark side. Think of Selick's The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. Ellen Besen , author of Animation Unleashed, says that darkness, and the "organic" feeling of his hand-crafted films, are what make Selick's "personal vision" stand out.
Selick's latest stop-motion vamp in the dark is Coraline, a spooky but kid-friendly fantasy based on a Neil Gaiman book about a girl who discovers a "better" version of her family behind the walls of her new home, and has to decide which family to keep. We reached Selick in New York.
Question: I have a 6-year-old. Should I take her to see Coraline?
Answer: Depends on how brave she is.
Q: She's an utter ninny.
A: Haha! You just answered your own question. I make movies 'for brave children of all ages.' But a safer bet is maybe 8 years old and up. It's a PG-rated film. Parents know their kids. We don't want to traumatize the ninnies!
Q: You're an animator who's always been in touch with his dark side -- doing films based on Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach) and Neil Gaiman, now. Where does that passion for scaring children come from?
A: I think it comes from my childhood. My mother's from the South, Alabama. I grew up in New Jersey, but every summer I would spend six weeks in the Land of the Storytellers. These grisly, gruesome tales would be told by this one relative, Lib Driggers. She'd round me and all my cousins up and tell us about this hatchet murderer still at large, and just scare the daylights out of us. We LOVED it!
There's a child inside of everybody, that desire to hear the grimmer tales of the Brothers Grimm or Halloween ghost stories -- Snow White, Pinocchio, the dark and the light. That's what makes a story timeless.
Q: What are we seeing on the screen in Coraline? How much is 'real' and how much is digital?
A: This is old school. Ninety percent of what you see on screen was made by hand. Every character that's brought to life -- the humans, rats, cats, that whole theater filled with Scottie dogs? We built that whole thing, theater, hundreds of dog models, because that's what we do.
Q: Does the eye respond to that tactile image differently?
A: I am convinced that somewhere deep inside of our tiny reptile brains, we see stop-motion animation and think, 'That's real. I don't know where it is or how big it is, but it's real.' Shooting the movie in 3-D only enhances that reality.
Q: Are you always going to be a holdout against going all digital?
A: This is what I was born to do. I've tried other things, and I got really beaten up badly trying to do live action (Monkeybone).
I love Pixar's computer-generated films. After Pixar, it's been hard to get another stop-motion film funded. But Aardman (Wallace & Gromit) will make another feature. Tim Burton's making a stop-motion version of his old short, Frankenweenie. Wes Anderson has The Fantastic Mr. Fox coming out. So it's the best time EVER for animation.
Q: Your movies have a more deliberate pace to them than, say, a Shrek.
A: We start the movie off with a bit of a bang, but then we want to take things into a slow and build toward a big finish.
I figure, 'Lookit, we've got that audience for at least 15 minutes. They're not going to get up and leave. Let's give them something different.' In the movies, people can't change the channel. Take a minute to adjust to our pace and let the payoff mean something.
Q: What's the message a child should take from Coraline?
A: These are parents who don't give their daughter enough attention, but not because they're selfish. They're making a living. It's what families deal with these days. It's real. But you don't need a perfect family to have one that loves you.
Children should figure out, just like Coraline, 'Dad, you're not so bad after all.'Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun