Film set in Ashland up for Oscar

On the eve of the 82nd Academy Awards, local cinephiles have a homegrown hero on the nominees list — a stop-motion animated one.

After grossing $122 million worldwide, "Coraline," the critically acclaimed animated film set in Ashland and filmed at Portland's Laika studios, is nominated for best animated feature. The nomination is a first for film director Henry Selick, who talked to the Tidings from his Los Angeles hotel room the Friday before the Oscars.

"Of course I'm nervous," Selick said. "It's just part of the deal. It's not a bad thing, it's not something you do every day. It is wonderful nonetheless."

The director spent Thursday night at a directors' symposium, and will attend the ceremony Sunday night.

The film, based on British author Neil Gaiman's book of the same title, tells the story of Coraline Jones, a young girl whose overworked parents just moved from Pontiac, Mich. to Ashland. Coraline discovers a portal to a magical but dangerous parallel world where her "other" parents have button eyes and cater beyond her every whim, and she learns how dangerous this world is after she tries to leave.

The film broke new ground by being the first 3D stop-motion animated feature, and is the first major motion picture released by Laika studios, owned by Nike founder Phil Knight.

In addition to "Coraline," this year's best animated feature Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature will include Pixar's "Up," Wes Anderson's "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," Disney's "The Princess and the Frog," and independent Irish film "The Secret of Kells" directed by Tomm Moore.

In spite of the competition, Selick remains grounded and said he was simply glad to be invited to the party.

"It's nice. I don't feel like I myself am competing," he said.

Selick noted the quality of the other nominees the category, particularly "Up" and "The Secret of Kells."

"Those are wonderful films," he said.

Unlike the book, Selick chose to set the film in Ashland.

In his first draft of the screenplay, Selick planned to set the film in Britain as it is in the book, but he didn't like the first draft of the screenplay written entirely in British English.

"It was just one of those things where I needed to make it more comfortable for myself," he said.

However, he felt two of his characters were better with a British accent, primarily Coraline's two neighbors, Shakespearean actresses Miss Forcible and Miss Spink, voiced by British voice actors Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French.

"I wanted the household to have diversity," he said about Coraline's fictitious home.

Selick said the presence of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival made Ashland a natural setting for the story.

"I didn't look around at all. It seemed like a good fit," he said. "It's more like a town inspired by Ashland than the actual town."

In the book, the story occurred in late summer, but Selick said he thought winter fit the story better after spending a couple rainy winters in Portland.

"All that moisture kind of seeped into the story," he said, adding that the gray rainy winter gives Coraline's other world more contrast, as well as a colorful springtime denouement.

Selick first discovered Ashland through his friend Paul Moen, who worked with Selick as a production engineer in the 2001 film "Monkeybone." After staying in Moen's Ashland home, Selick left impressed.

Selick will be attending the Oscars at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. Locals can catch the Academy Awards live tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. on KDRV channel 12.

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