Coraline (2009)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 2/15/09
Director: Henry Selick
Written By: Neil Gaiman
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Keith David, Ian McShane

Brilliant! An amazing piece of wonder and horror from the twisted pen of Neil Gaiman and the visionary brilliance of Henry Selick. While the story treads familiar ground, the style and presentation help keep it fresh and engaging. A young and precocious girl named Coraline moves to the country with her family and is miserable. Her new home is a wreck, she has no friends, her parents consider her a pest and are too busy to pay her any attention, and she's trapped indoors because of terrible weather. All of that changes when she discovers a strange secret door in the house, which takes her to an alternate reality. In this other world, her parents are warm, charming, and delightful, and everything is full of magic and color. But something is definitely not right... Coraline's fantasy dream world soon becomes a nightmare, and she has to risk everything to save herself and her parents from oblivion.

Naturally, the first thing you notice about the film is just how incredible it looks. Selick and his team have really outdone themselves this time, and the film represents the best stop motion animation that I've ever seen. The level of detail and craftsmanship is astonishing, and every shot is a work of art in its own right. Fascinating stuff. For better or worse, I didn't get to see the 3D version of the film, even though the theater advertised it in 3D online. But I didn't feel like I was missing anything, other than the headache that 3D movies usually give me. The pacing can be a bit slow, but deliberately so, which builds a great amount of tension and allows us to feel the same frustrations that Coraline has with the real world.

The stunning visuals of the film are nicely complemented by a creepy musical score and a top-notch cast. In particular, Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher deliver superb performances and really breathe life and feeling into the characters. The characters themselves represent adult caricatures as perceived through the eyes of a child, deriving inspiration from Roald Dahl's classic work. The evil witch channels some of Disney's best villains, and for some reason triggered memories of Madam Medusa from "The Rescuers" (1977). Very creepy. The film is definitely dark, twisted, and a little scary, and the frightening imagery may be too intense for younger viewers. The film is also refreshingly and realistically violent, which comes as a huge surprise during this day and age when studios tend to act like hyper-sensitive overbearing parents. Perhaps you can get away with more in the animation medium because it's not real, but the intent is still there (which is arguably the most important thing). Overall, kudos to everyone involved for one of the most fantastic films I've ever seen.