It’s a good thing that Coraline didn’t come out the same year as WALL-E. Henry Selick’s weird and wonderful 3-D fable is a masterpiece of beauty and creepiness that almost wipes the awful memory of his Monkeybone from my mind.
Dakota Fanning voices the title character, a young girl who moves to a lovely old Victorian boarding house in Ashland, Oregon with her neglectful parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman). Her neighbors are a pair of former vaudeville stars, Miss Forcible and Miss Spink (Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders), and an odd circus acrobat named Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane), who trains jumping mice. Coraline discovers a small doorway that leads to an alternate version of her parents who are much nicer to her.
Of course, anyone who’s read Hansel and Gretel knows that this new world can’t be as wonderful as it seems, and it isn’t just because everyone on that side of the doorway has buttons for eyes. With the help of a cool stray cat (Keith David), Coraline fights back against the evil creature in hopes of returning back to her “boring old life.”
The film echoes the Japanese film Spirited Away as well as Pan’s Labyrinth, two other films with similar plots filled with imaginative imagery, but Coraline is unique in the way it uses stop-motion animation to create its amazing visuals.
As much as I enjoyed Coraline, I found the character to be fairly bland and not very interesting, and I also wish that the ending had been more surprising and original. Still, especially in 3-D, Coraline is often breathtaking and far better than most children’s films out there.
Fans of The Nightmare Before Christmas won’t want to miss this latest hit by the same director. Like its predecessor, Coraline may be too intense for younger kids, but adults will definitely fall under its spell.
UPDATE: Coraline is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.