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CORALINE (director/writer: Henry Selick; screenwriter: from the book by Neil Gaiman; cinematographer: Pete Kozachik; editors: Christopher Murrie/Ronald Sanders; music: Bruno Coulais; cast: WITH THE VOICES OF: Dakota Fanning (Coraline Jones), Teri Hatcher (Mother/Other Mother), Jennifer Saunders (Miss Spink), Dawn French (Miss Forcible), Keith David (Cat), John Hodgman (Father/Other Father), Robert Bailey Jr. (Wybie Lovat), Ian McShane (Mr. Bobinsky); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Henry Selick/Bill Mechanic/Claire Jennings/Mary Sandell; Focus Features; 2009)
“It might be too sophisticated and scary for children, but it at least never insults their intelligence.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Henry Selick (“Seepage”/”Moongirl”/”The Nightmare Before Christmas”) is the writer-director; he adapts from the award-winning 2002 children’s novella by Neil Gaiman this nightmarish tale of a little girl in her dreams getting what she wishes for and finding out it’s not what she expected. The novel was inspired by bedtime stories Gaiman told his daughters in the 1990s. The inventive but frightening fantasy is done in 3-D stop-motion animation (I saw it on DVD without the necessary glasses), and might be too scary for little children but its dazzling colors, creepy atmosphere, efficiently told eerie story and overall high quality production values should please an adult audience.

Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a spunky only child of 11 who feels neglected by her always too busy for her unsympathetic garden-catalog-writing parents (Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman). They have just moved from Pontiac, Michigan, to somewhere unnamed in Oregon. They rent an apartment in a ramshackle old pink boarding house, whose other tenants are all eccentrics–two washed-up aging British actresses, Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Forcible (Dawn French), and a colorful showboating Russian acrobat (Ian McShane) who runs a rodent circus.

The lonely Coraline is befriended by a nerdy boy who seems to be her age, Wybie Lovat (Robert Bailey Jr.), whose grandma owns the Pink Palace apartment house where her parents are tenants. When Coraline explores her 150 year-old house, on orders from her neglectful parents, she uncovers at night a secret door and walks into a mysterious passageway. There she discovers an eerie alternate version of her life and existence. Life seems similar to her existence, only better. Her Other Parents crack jokes, play games and have plenty of time for her. But things turn perilous when her Other Mother schemes to keep her there forever and informs her she must have black buttons sewn into her own eyes, like they have, to give her a different vision of the world. Thereby Coraline uses her resourcefulness to escape their clutches in this make-believe world and return home to reality and is helped by Wybie and his intuitive talking cat (Keith David), who have been stalking her.

The film explores proper parenting, real parental love instead of misplaced love, and a child’s concerns when searching for identity. It takes a psychological turn when entering the door in the wall and becomes a riff on the Freudian study on the terrors of the unconscious. It might be too sophisticated and scary for children, but it at least never insults their intelligence.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”