Coraline Henry Selick

Coraline Henry Selick
Rest assured, Coraline is stop-motion virtuoso Henry Selick's most entertaining and accomplished film since his classic Burton collaboration, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Selick's inferior forays between - the awful Monkeybone and the uneven James and the Giant Peach - should fade from memory in the wake of this deftly magical adaptation of Neil Gaiman's masterful dark fantasy.

It should be made clear that Coraline isn't really a children's story. There's more than enough menace to keep the average viewer on edge but the threat of button eye replacement via sharp needle, as well as other sinister disfigurements, may be a tad much for wee youngsters susceptible to nightmare fodder.

The titular young heroine begins her adventure upon moving into a new apartment home with her parents, who are far too distracted by their garden catalogue deadline to pay mind to Coraline's attention seeking. Sent off to explore the house, Coraline comes upon a small, sealed-up, hidden door. By day, there is only brick behind it but come nightfall, when lured by the sound of mice, Coraline discovers that the door opens into a psychedelic little passageway that leads to an alternate reality. In this world, her parents to live to please her, all delicious food and glowing attention, the only catch is that they have buttons for eyes.

Disconcerting, yes, but Coraline is gradually lured by temptations of her "other" mother's seemingly boundless love. Suffice to say, nothing is as it seems and the elaborate construction and deconstruction of these realties are a joy to discover. Selick has created what is possibly the most beautiful and mystifying stop-motion environment ever committed to screen. The odd cast of supporting characters - geriatric mermaid dancers Mrs. Spink and Forcible, and eccentric mouse circus tamer Mr. Bobinsky - are grotesquely hilarious, bolstering the landscape with distinctly comical personalities.

Teri Hatcher nails her duties as the distracted housewife/mother and delivers a Cruella-licious voice performance as the "other" mother. Dakota Fanning does a fine job in the lead, though a few odd elements of her Southern accent slip through, but it's nowhere near as unsettling as Keith David's rich baritone emanating from the scrawny body of Coraline's little black cat companion. Unsettling, but weirdly awesome, and that's exactly the tone Coraline excels at. (Alliance)