Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Runtime: 1 hr 40 min
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Henry Selick
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher
Visually appealing and deeply felt.
Review by: MiamiMovieCritic
Added: 8 years ago
Coraline is based on a children's book by Neil Gaiman, so right there you know it's going to be a work of vivid imagination. Add to that the genius of Henry Selick, the creator of The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and the underwater sequences of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and you have an adaptation that ranks among the most visually appealing and deeply felt movies of 2009.
I've only seen the film in 3-D, but I'll bet the power of both the images and the story carries through on DVD. Selick has repurposed the novel to suit his own creative impulses, but it remains the enchanting tale of Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning, in a performance that brings the same magical quality to this that she brought to In the Realms of the Unreal, a documentary about outsider artist Henry Darger).
Coraline is unhappy in her new home. Her parents are both writers and seem to want to be left alone. And her only friend is a bizarre neighborhood boy named Wybie, who she finds annoying. Like many a lonely girl before her (Alice, Dorothy and the rest), Coraline discovers a portal to another world. In this strange dream place (reached by crawling though a tunnel, visualized in the film like a womb), she has an Other Mother and an Other Father, even an other friend who looks exactly like Wybie. The catch is that, in one of many genuinely startling images, they have buttons for her eyes. At first this seems like a place where Coraline can have everything she wants, and she appreciates her new parents' affections. But those affections turn out to be unhealthy, controlling and, in the case of the Other Mother, maniacal.
My favorite character in the film is Wybie. I assume he's a surrogate for Selick, and I knew people like him when I was a kid, artistic people who hadn't quite found the way to communicate their fractured view of the world. He's one of many characters who have been richly imagined by Selick, in addition to the other inhabitants of Coraline's home: Ms. Spink and Ms. Forcible, two burlesque performers; and Mr. Bobinsky, a Russian gymnast with wild proportions. And just wait until you see what the Other Mother is hiding behind her warm smile and those button eyes.
Most family films these days are generated on computers. It's great to see a film that's been beautifully handmade: every hair, every stitch. Watching Coraline, we feel like the young heroine herself when she first discovers the other world: eager to return to it again and see what new wonders it has to offer.