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Henry Selick Talks Coraline and French & Saunders

8 May 2009 by Rob Daniel

Henry SelickWith the success of Coraline, Henry Selick has plenty to smile aboutDue to Henry Selick working in the world of stop-motion animation, each of his films can be seen as a gift. 

Okay, sometimes the present isn't quite what you expected (part live-action misfire Monkeybone), but the arrival of a new Henry Selick film should be greeted with excitement typically reserved for a new Wallace and Gromit adventure.

Inspired at an early age by the wonders of stop motion, Selick joined Disney after graduating from college.  Working on such films as Pete's Dragon and The Fox and the Hound, he also befriended other animators, including Tim Burton and Ratatouille director Brad Bird.

Burton backed Selick on his first feature, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, an instant classic animated movie that, ahem, we named the best Christmas movie ever made.

Selick's ability to mix the magical with the macabre made him an obvious choice to adapt Roald Dahl's work for the big screen, and his James and the Giant Peach was cited by some critics as being even better than the book.

Coraline is his best film since The Nightmare Before Christmas, an enchanting fusion of his skewed worldview with Neil Gaiman's offbeat children's novel.


First of all congratulations on the film.  Nine years well spent?

Henry Selick:  Well, it wasn’t the full nine years, but it was certainly a long wait from beginning to end.  But, I’m really happy with the film, and especially happy with the way people have responded to it.

Coraline 02Miss Forcible and Miss Spink, voiced by French & SaundersFrench and Saunders are voices in the movie.  Were you a fan before the film?

HS:  I have to be honest, I was mainly a Jennifer Saunders fan because that’s who I knew through Absolutely Fabulous and working with her on James and the Giant Peach.  But, Neil Gaiman is friends with Dawn’s husband Lenny Henry, so I got their DVDs and started watching their routines and I quickly became a huge fan. 

Coraline is being released in certain cinemas in 3-D.  Is 3-D the future of moviemaking?

HS:  I think there is going to be an enormous amount of 3-D cinema, with many normal cinemas transforming to show the format.  It’s still hard to say.  Our goal with Coraline was never to let 3-D overpower the story, only to support it.  But, I think 3-D will probably be around from now on.

You’re making a stop motion picture, so adding 3-D into the mix seems like upping the challenge.  Did you think you had to see what you could do with 3-D in this movie?

HS:  I have a long history with 3-D.  I did a project with Lenny Lipton, the inventor of modern 3-D technology, the guy behind the RealD system.  

We did a project 20 years ago, and I thought this guy’s a genius and kept checking with him to see how the system was developing.  And back on The Nightmare Before Christmas there were a couple of still photographers who as a hobby would shoot 3-D stills, so 3-D has always been there.  

Coraline 03Coraline comes right at ya in 3-DWhat the format really shows off is that we’re using real puppets, real objects.  And we started production in 2005 time and since then 3-D cinema has really come to life.

You’ve expanded the story of the film beyond the book.  Were you worried about Neil Gaiman’s reactions to the changes?

HS:  Neil gave me a great gift.  He said the first draft of the script was too close to the book.  Which is what most authors want, they want you to respect every detail. 

But, he said, I think we’ve been talking too much - why don’t you go off in your next draft and see what you come up with to grow it into a movie.  It then took me about a year. 
 
I needed to add the character of Wybie, the boy that Coraline can interact with in the real world.  Overtime I made hundreds of little adjustments, but was always trying to honour the essence of the story and characters. 

Neil responded favourably to that second draft.  I was relieved because I knew he got what I was doing – that I wasn’t going into people’s homes and changing the words in the book!

Coraline is one of the year’s best looking films, but the voice cast are just as fantastic.  How did you go about getting them?

Dakota FanningDakota Fanning - the voice of CoralineHS:  French and Saunders was Neil’s idea from the very beginning, so they were always there in their background.  I moved the second draft to the US because I wasn’t comfortable writing all that British English, or real English(!), but I was always going to keep those characters British.

The first official casting choice was Dakota Fanning.  We managed to get the script to her and although she’s a young girl she reads everything herself.  And she really chose us - it was a nice fit because she loved and believed in the character.

Once we had Dakota we built the other voices around her, starting with Teri Hatcher as Coraline’s mom.  I listened to a hundred different actresses through grabbing stuff from movies, and narrowed it down to a few actresses who worked almost in a musical way with Dakota.  But, Teri was the one.

And Ian MacShane had has this resurgence through Deadwood and I’d seen him in a small part in this cool movie called Sexy Beast.  So, after Dakota I just started putting it together and building my team.

Is it true at one point the film was going to be a musical?

HS:  It was an idea, something that never quite worked.  We had demos from the group They Might Be Giants that were great, but in the end it felt like we were trying to force them into a story that was already rich and full.

We still have one amazing song by them when the “other dad” is playing the piano.

Do you think that the best kid’s movies are the one’s that are a little bit scary?

HS:  That don’t have to be scary to be good, but I think when most adults are asked to remember childhood movies that had the most impact, they’re always the ones that had scares in them.  The Wizard of Oz, Bambi’s mother dying...

And I personally think kids are tough, they like a varied diet – a little dark with their sweet.

Nightmare Before ChristmasSelick's frightfully good The Nightmare Before ChristmasBut, you’ve now entered that group.  I know kids who like being scared by The Nightmare Before Christmas.

HS:  If that's true, great!  Kids are wild animals, they understand things and want to know more.  They see a dead animal by the side of the road, they don’t all run screaming, they want to poke it with a stick and understand the mysteries!


Rob Daniel

Coraline is released nationwide on Friday 8th May.  CLICK HERE for our review.