Director    Henry Selick
Starring    Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Ian McShane
Release    6 FEB (US) 8 MAY (UK)    Certificate PG
4 stars


7th May 2009

There's something deeply disturbing about button-eyes. Maybe it's the lack of reflection or emotion that leaves a certain 'deadness' about them. But if your Other Mother is more loving and attentive than your real mother, surely that's a good thing? Even if she has button eyes, right?

Coraline (Fanning) is an adventurous but bored 11 year-old girl, with parents that care more for their work than they do for her. Exploring the local area, she finds a small door. Behind it is... a brick wall. But during the night, Coraline returns to find a path into a parallel world, where everything is essentially the same, only fun - her parents give her the attention she craves and her eccentric neighbours have become wonderful performers. The only hint that all is not well is Coraline's Other Mother (Hatcher), who starts to show her true colours as the movie progresses.

Coraline looks incredible. It's the first stop-motion movie to take advantage of 3D technology, and the 3D is used only to enhance the experience - this is no gimmick At 100 minutes, Coraline is the longest stop-motion movie made to date, and the attention to detail throughout is fantastic. There are so many visually stunning scenes that the team behind it have to be applauded. They have created a dark and creepy atmosphere, and yet filled it with wonder: it's a perfect balance that never threatens to go too far either way.

All of this would be redundant if it didn't have some substance to go with its good looks. Comparisons have been made with Alice In Wonderland and it's no surprise with a tunnel to another world and a talking cat to offer guidance along the way. Wonderland certainly had its surreal moments, but Coraline turns it up to eleven, and the experience is a whole lot darker than anything C.S. Lewis ever wrote. It's obvious that author Neil Gaiman was inspired by Alice, but there's enough of his own twist on it for it to not feel too similar.

The pace is a little slow early on, but how do you convey a child's boredom in an exciting way? There are some nice little touches - parents will be familiar with the attention-grabbing methods on display here - but it's not until Coraline enters the parallel world that the movie really comes into its element. The scene in the other-world garden is a real treat, with plants springing to life in an explosion of colour. Towards the end, when Coraline discovers the truth, the pace really picks up, perhaps too much - she speeds through her challenges that lead up to the final confrontation and the climax never reaches its full potential.

As for the character of Coraline, she's has all of the curiosity and amazement of youth, but her churlishness with neighbour Wybourne (the way she repeatedly mocks his name) often make her seem unpleasant. Perhaps this is an attempt to make her more realistic as a pre-teen girl, but it's hardly an appealing trait. In terms of the voice work, supporting characters steal the show, with French, Saunders and Ian McShane really shining. In comparison, Fanning as Coraline and Teri Hatcher as her mother seem somewhat staid. That said, the characters are so eccentric and colourful, most anyone would seem bland in comparison.

As painstaking as the stop-motion process is, when it produces work that looks as fabulous as this, it really is worth every second of effort that went into it. With a captivating story holding it together and its eerie atmosphere, Coraline is an absolute joy to behold.

More:  Family  Fantasy  Kids  Animation
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