Kids are unself-conscious geniuses at inventing alternative realities, effortlessly creative universes in which their wishes and fears find full expression. And, of course, adults regularly visit imaginary worlds too, often with psychotherapists as travel agents. Add to those interested parties the millions who love the fantasy-rich literature of Neil Gaiman and those who adore the dreamscape artistry of Nightmare Before Christmas filmmaker Henry Selick, and you have the audience for Coraline: everybody. This thrilling stop-motion animated adventure is a high point in Selick’s career of creating handcrafted wonderlands of beauty blended with deep, disconcerting creepiness.
The story is familiar to those who have read Gaiman’s award-winning 2002 book, and appeals to all who previously followed Alice down a rabbit hole or stepped with Lucy through a closet door to visit Narnia. Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) moves with her distracted parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) to an apartment in an eccentric old house. The tenants are similarly unusual. There’s a pair of gaga British ladies of the stage (the Absolutely Fabulous comic duo of Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French), and a Russian circus gymnast (Ian McShane) who’s all skinny blue limbs and big blue belly. But Coraline is bored, and feels ignored, until she discovers a secret door in her bedroom. In the way of fearless children, she enters. And in the bizarro world on the other side, she’s greeted by her Other Mother (also Hatcher) — an impossibly perfect version of her real parent, better in every way except for eyes that are dead black buttons. There’s a more charming dead-eyed Other Father too, and, indeed, more magnificent versions of everyone she left behind?until, that is, the danger behind the magnificence is revealed.
Book purists will be satisfied, even with the movie-only addition of a playmate for Coraline: a yakkety boy whose ”improvement” in the Other World is shocking indeed. And Selick fans will beam — especially those who seek out theaters offering 3-D screenings. Stop-motion in 3-D, wow! There’s magic through the end credits. So don’t rush out the exit door. A