Director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach) adds to an impressive repertoire of stop-motion fantasy films with this bizarre twist on the classic venture down a rabbit hole of extravagant, and chilling surprises. Based on the 2002 novel of the same name by British author Neil Gaiman, the film details the adventures of Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning), a plucky, blue-haired, eleven-year-old explorer who arrives from Pontiac, Michigan to Ashland, Oregon, where she and her parents move into the The Pink Palace, a converted, dilipidated mansion. The other tenants are the eccentric Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane), a blue-skinned, Russian giant with a diet for beets and a curious talent for conversing with pet mice, and Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French), ex-thespians who breed Scottish terriers (saving the dead ones for taxidermy) and have a sweet tooth for 100-year-old taffy.
Coraline meets Wybourne "Wybie" Lovat (Robert Bailey Jr.), the awkward, talkative grandson of Mrs. Lovat, the owner of The Pink Palace, and a nameless black cat. Wybie puzzles Coraline with a fear of the mansion (from which his grandmother's twin sister was "stolen"). Later that evening, Coraline receives a stuffed doll from Wybie sown in her own image and discovers a door, which leads to another world, the polar opposite of her own. Here, her "other parents" are attentive and loving, despite the anomaly that they have no eyes - just buttons sown in where their eyes should be. At first, Coraline is content with her new life and considers staying in the "other" world forever, but when she is confronted with a gruesome sacrifice, her fairy tale world plunges into a sinister nightmare as she realizes just how black the rabbit hole can become.
With a crew of only 450 people managing 50 lots, 150 sets and a cast of characters exhibiting 200,000 facial expressions, Coraline was a ground-breaking success as the first stop-motion animated fim to be shot entirely in 3D. This is convenient, since the first half of the film is decidedly slow and hopelessly cliche, mitigated by colorful and complex imagery. Even with a small cast of characters, the film is cluttered by performances which are wayward and less than fulfilling. Dakota Fanning shines as the feisty, adventurous Coraline, while Terri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives) performs at her darkest best as the ominous "other mother," Beldam. Veteran voice-actor Keith David (Halo, Princess Mononoke) is the voice of the cat, who sees through the facade of the "other" world and advises Coraline in her quest to defeat the Beldam. Overall, an entertaining fantasy flick that makes way for Tim Burton's adapation of Alice in Wonderland due in March of 2010.
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