- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2009

With “Coraline,” Henry Selick and his team of stop-motion animators have created a real wonder, one that will entertain children for years to come.

It’s no easy trick creating a believable fantasy world for the big screen, as Mr. Selick’s own body of work illustrates. On the one hand, he helmed “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” the playful stop-motion feature that married Halloween and Christmas into one fanciful holiday.

On the other, you have “Monkeybone.” Despite the director’s visual acumen and a number of interesting fantasy sequences, the film nevertheless fails to jell into a coherent whole.

“Coraline” falls firmly into the former camp: Believable and entertaining on its own terms, it creates a self-contained fantasy world that draws in the viewer.

Coraline Jones (the voice of Dakota Fanning) is the oft-ignored only daughter of a pair of writers who have just uprooted the family in hope of finding work. Mother (Teri Hatcher) doesn’t care to cook or put up with Coraline’s shenanigans; Father (John Hodgman) is a culinary artist with a knack for concocting gross meals and finding busywork for his daughter.

The closest thing Coraline has to a friend in this brave new neighborhood is an annoying, chatty little boy by the name of Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.). Although a pest at times, Wybie clearly has his heart in the right place, and he gives Coraline a doll he has found that looks just like her - except for the button eyes.

While exploring the house one day at the suggestion of Father, Coraline comes across a miniature door that has been wallpapered over; the door is a passageway into an alternate world both identical and superior to Coraline’s world in every way. Other Mother is a gourmet chef, Other Father entertains Coraline in the family’s garden, and Other Wybie is silent and helpful.

Needless to say, things are too good to be true, and the situation quickly spirals beyond Coraline’s control.

“Coraline” is the most impressive stop-motion animated feature ever made, technically speaking. It is ambitious almost beyond comprehension. Mr. Selick and his crew of puppeteers manipulate so many different moving parts that it’s easy to forget just how tedious the work must have been. (For more on the making of “Coraline” and its groundbreaking use of 3-D photography, check out this week’s Beyond Hollywood column.)

Parents may want to be careful about taking the very young to “Coraline,” as it contains some relatively scary, intense imagery. Neil Gaiman - Newberry Award-winning writer and the author of the source novel - offered some advice on his blog last week.

“I think a good rule of thumb would be that if your child can cope with ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ and the original ‘Wizard of Oz,’ then they should be able to cope with ‘Coraline’ just fine,” he wrote.

That sounds about right. Be prudent, but don’t allow a fear of warping your child to keep him or her from enjoying this marvelous little movie.

★★★

TITLE: “Coraline”

RATING: PG (Thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor)

Story Continues →