Focus Features
In cinemas on 6 February

Fans of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” will enjoy the new 3D, stop-animation film “Coraline.” Both are from the director, Henry Selick, who seems to enjoy adding a much needed dark twist to children’s movies. “Coraline,” is certainly not as overtly dark as “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Aesthetically it appears a lot sweeter. But the genius of the film is that even in the prettiest of scenes (no Jack Skeleton here), the viewer feels constantly on edge; something scary and ugly could take place at any moment.
Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) and her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) have just moved from Michigan to Oregon and into a large, Victorian, family-share home. Coraline’s parents are busy with work and pay little attention to her, so she begins to explore the house. Mostly she finds leaky windows, strange neighbors, and dusty corners. She does happen upon a miniature door, but it’s been filled with bricks. Her only playmate is the landlord’s grandson, Wybie Lovat. But Wybie is a bit eccentric and Coraline finds him annoying and weird – especially after he gives her a doll in her likeness.
One night, after an inedible dinner, Coraline revisits the tiny door and finds it no longer filled in. It connects to a tunnel that leads to Coraline’s “other house.” That house is bright and clean with no leaky windows. There’s an enchanted garden with flowers that blossom and glow as she passes by. Coraline’s “other mother” and “other father” pay attention to her, cook her favorite meals, and always want to play. They have buttons for eyes – which Coraline finds creepy at first, but after some cake and hot dogs it’s all good.
In the morning she wakes up in her boring old bed. But that night she goes again to the “other house.” There’s the same delicious dinner and beautiful garden, but this time her “other mother” keeps insisting that Coraline should stay – as in forever. While indulgent dinners for the rest of her life sound great, she’s not so sure she’s ready to leave behind her real parents for good. Soon Coraline finds out what’s really going on in the “other house,” and the true character of her “other mother,” and trust me, no amount of cake and hot dogs could make anyone want to stay.
“Coraline” is adventurous, scrappy, and intelligent – she’s an easy character to root for. And while the 3D glasses gave me a headache after awhile, the animation is fantastic, especially in the “other house” scenes. The characters are weird and make fun use of their oddly-shaped bodies, a certain style of Selick’s. Also characteristic of Selick was the humor. He made sure that adults can enjoy the film but also gave credit to a child’s ability to grasp darker humor. There were a few moments when the pace could have quickened, where the animators seemed to be saying “Hey, check out what we did!” But in the end, it didn’t matter. “Coraline” took over three years to make, so I can forgive a little self-indulgence.