Every animated movie headed for the multiplexes this year looks like it will be tricked out with the latest in 3-D technology (“Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Up,” “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”), and “Coraline,” the latest stop-motion adventure from director Henry Selick – he’s the mastermind behind “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James and the Giant Peach” – is no exception. But the real question with “Coraline” is not whether to see it in 3-D (the added depth was cute, but nonessential); it’s whether to bring your kids. Yes, Focus is spending nearly all of its TV ad budget on Nickelodeon, but “Coraline” is one creepy movie, up there with “Monster House” on the bad dreams scale. (It’s definitely creepier than Tim Burton’s last stop-motion effort, “Corpse Bride.”) However, while I would advise parents to use caution in deciding whether to take their kids to see “Coraline,” I would highly recommend that any grown-up with a taste for fantasy should see the movie at once. The source material is from Neil Gaiman, after all. He knows a thing or two about that whole fantasy thing.
Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) has just moved with her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) to a new apartment in the middle of nowhere. Her parents work from home but pay Coraline little attention. One night Coraline hears a noise and follows it to a small door in the wall. She finds the key to the door, crawls through, and finds a parallel world where her “other mother” (also voiced by Hatcher) is making a feast in the kitchen (her real mom is a lousy cook), and her other father plays piano. Coraline loves this other world, though the fact that everyone has buttons for eyes naturally disturbs her. Still, this doesn’t stop her from visiting her other mother whenever she can, though she ultimately realizes that her other mother is in fact a sinister beast that feeds off the hopes and dreams of unhappy kids, and she is now trapped in the other world.
There are parts of “Coraline” that are absolutely stunning – the other garden, the mist-covered scene, the dancing mice, the “Coraline” song – and other, smaller bits that look unfinished (nearly every shot of the cat, running water). It leads to some inconsistent visuals, but the good absolutely outweighs the bad. The same goes for the voice work. Hodgman and Robert Bailey Jr., who voices the neighbor boy Wybie, are both appropriately odd, and Fanning has the sarcastic teen thing down. Hatcher, however, is a liability. She sounds like she’s reading a different script than the rest of the cast, emphasizing all the wrong words.
These squabbles are minor, though. The story is the key (of course, I’m a writer, so I’m a tad biased about that), and this is the one thing that elevates “Coraline” above its stop-motion predecessors. There are songs, but they are brief and don’t drive the plot like they do in “Nightmare” and “Corpse Bride.” The story is always front and center, and it never fails to delight, and at times terrify, the audience.
Tim Burton had nothing to do with “Coraline,” but fans of his work should run to see this. With any luck, it will reach a wider audience than the last adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s work, the woefully underrated “Stardust.” I’m still scratching my head over why that movie bombed so badly.(4 / 5)