Coraline, based on a short book by Neil Gaiman, is an entertaining 3-D experience that manages to tell a captivating kids story with an edge that adults can enjoy.
The movie tells the story of a young girl (Fanning) who through a secret door in her new home and discovers an alternate version of her life. On the surface, this parallel reality is eerily similar to her real life – only much better. But when her adventure turns dangerous, and her counterfeit parents (including Other Mother [Hatcher]) try to keep her forever, Coraline must count on her resourcefulness, determination, and bravery to get back home – and save her family.
Selick’s animated style is almost smooth enough to be mistaken for CGI, but there’s a texture to the approach that betrays it as being a little more labor intensive. Kids likely won’t notice the difference, but adults will appreciate that the movie doesn’t feel like a generic clone of the animated product that studios are pumping out with regularity. Selick’s bizarre streak is given ample opportunity to be on display. His tendencies to favor gothic backdrops and to develop his characters in such a way that they look like they have emerged from an Edward Gorey illustration makes the film potentially intense for young, nightmare-prone children. This is the basis for the PG (not G) rating.
The plot is interesting enough to involve viewers of all ages. Despite the incorporation of familiar elements, it provides some surprises and the narrative trajectory is not predictable from start to finish. The vocal characterizations, mostly provided by actors without distinctive voices, are strong. Dakota Fanning makes the young heroine instantly likeable and Teri Hatcher has no difficulty with aspects of her role that force her into Wicked Witch territory. Selick may have incorporated a little of Fanning and Hatcher’s looks into their animated counterparts, although nothing is overt.
Like all effective fables, Coraline isn’t only for children, although it would, I suspect, work as a bed-time story. One of my biggest problems with many animated movies is that they are pitched at an intellectual level below me, but I didn’t feel that way about Coraline. The film has been crafted with a consideration that the best family movies appeal not only to a young target audience but to the parents who accompany their offspring to theaters. And, while the 3D experience may make Coraline a little more eye-catching, it is by no means mandatory for those wishing to enjoy what this visually intriguing production has to offer.