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Coraline (2009)

  • Review: *** ½ (out of ****)
  • Starring: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, John Hodgman, Robert Bailey Jr, Ian McShane
  • Director: Henry Selick
  • Screenplay: Henry Selick (Book: Neil Gaiman)
  • Length: 96 min.
  • MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor.

Forced to move to a new town where she doesn’t know anyone, the title character of Coraline finds a strange new world within the walls of her home as she fights to stave off boredom and find the attention she craves for her busy parents.

Told with flare, originality and a twisted sense of humor, Henry Selick’s adaptation of the Neil Gaiman book is filled with unique characters, fascinating situations and interesting puzzles. The story is of an alternate world where young Coraline has found an exact duplicate of her real world existence. Her parents are nicer, her neighbors less quirky and the overly chatty boy she meets just a day prior is mute. It’s an ideal world, except that in order to embrace it, she, like the rest of the denizens of this world, must replace her eyes with buttons.

There is a mystery surrounding this new world where three other children have vanished over time, happily accepting the ideal without considering what they might lose if they didn’t.

Dakota Fanning is very well suited to voice over work, providing the voice of the spunky Coraline. She’s ably supported by Teri Hatcher as her mother, John Hodgman as her father, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French as the crazy terrier spinsters, Keith David as the talking cat, Robert Bailey Jr as annoying neighbor boy Wybie, and Ian McShane as the loopy Russian flea circus manager.

It’s an eclectic cast enabled magnificently by inventive visuals that easily create a world within a world, capturing what can be so magical in the art of animated storytelling. The opening sequence is a bit too reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands, but is interesting nonetheless, and far better than the similar creation at the beginning of 9.

If there’s one flaw it’s in the somewhat predictable nature and overly accelerated pace of the final scenes leading up to the film’s climax. The first part of the film is a leisurely, but intriguing set up to the story, lingering the right amount of time over each set piece and character drawing the audience in easily. But, when the character becomes frantic, so does the film, but it does so in a way that seems overly quick.

The score to the film is strange and brooding, filled with discordant melodies that remind me of early Danny Elfman compositions. Matter of fact, to borrow the Edward Scissorhands comparison, it seems like Selick is very intent on creating the same types of environments that Tim Burton does in his films. And since the pair did work together on The Nightmare Before Christmas, it’s not at all surprising. Hopefully, Selick doesn’t continue down Burton’s same path and lose his edge in the necessity to be bizarre.

Coraline isn’t like most Disney animated features, it appeals to an older demographic of viewer, but older children and young teens may still be intrigued by the film. It will also appeal to the group of adults who found such wonders on display in The Nightmare Before Christmas as it bares similar structures and themes, which isn’t a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t later result in something like the disappointment The Corpse Bride.