Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is horrifying – in a good way.
CORALINE directed by Henry Selick, written by Selick based on the book by Neil Gaiman, with the voices of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher and Keith David. An Alliance Films release. 100 minutes. Opens Friday (February 6). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNN
Henry Selick's Coraline is the kind of movie Walt Disney Studios has forgotten how to make - a cinematically inventive, dramatically involving children's adventure that isn't exclusively aimed at children. There's no talking down, no softening of potentially unsettling moments. It's awesome.
Grown-up fans of fantasy will find at least as much to enjoy in Selick's rich adaptation of Neil Gaiman's creepy fable as their pint-sized charges. The film's a constant source of visual delight, particularly if you're seeing it in 3-D.
Sticking close to Gaiman's text, Selick's Coraline tells the story of a slightly neglected little girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning) who discovers an alternate universe hiding behind a door in her family's new apartment.
Everything in the other world is just like it is back home, except better. Her Other Mother and Other Father have nothing to do but spend time with her and prepare lush meals. (In the "real" world, they're too busy with work to do more than order takeout.) There's just one catch, and it has something to do with the buttons sewn onto everyone's eyes....
If you've seen Selick's previous features, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and James And The Giant Peach, you'll be familiar with the animator's Gothic-influenced style and his ear for voice casting. Teri Hatcher shows more range playing Coraline's brittle mom and her netherworld counterpart than she ever has in her full-bodied work, and nerd hero John Hodgman gives great distracted warmth as Mom's deferential partners.
Coraline is a pretty grim fairy tale, and Selick doesn't shy away from the real horror at its heart. It should be noted that Snow White and Bambi have their dark moments, too. Kids can usually handle that stuff a lot better than their parents think they can - not that certain climactic images didn't give this 40-year-old the heebie-jeebies, mind you.