DIR/WRI: Henry Selick • PRO: Claire Jennings, Mary Sandell • DOP: Pete Kozachik • ED: Christopher Murrie, Ronald Sanders• DES: Henry Selick • CAST: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, John Hodgman, Robert Bailey Jr.

Coraline is, unmistakably, the creation of writer/director Henry Selick whose gloomy, phantasmagorical style brought to life The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and James and the Giant Peach (1996). This stunningly surreal, stop-motion 3D feature is going to surprise a lot of viewers and terrify a lot of children.

Eleven-year-old Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) and her parents (Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman) move to an old pink Victorian house in Oregon where she is lonely and can’t get the attention from her preoccupied parents she so desires. She encounters a whole cast of eccentrics in her search for company, including two retired theatre ladies (Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders) a delightfully self-possessed cat and a little boy called Wybie, who gives her a doll that looks like her but with black buttons for eyes. She finds a trap door leading to a predictable Alice In Wonderland-esque rabbit hole which then leads to a parallel world in which everything bears some resemblance to her known world, but better. Her parents are devoted and shower her with gifts. Everything is more exciting and alive than the drab lonely world she has left behind. But, like the doll, her new perfect parents have black buttons for eyes. One doesn’t have to dig too deep to read Coraline as a story of a pre-teen girl’s transition from childish solipsism into the troubled world of human inadequacy and complexity. Whether she stays plugged in to this parallel world – which is perfect in all respects except those concerning the soul – or not, is something you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

Based on Neil Gaiman’s 2002 award-winning novella of the same name, Coraline spent two years in pre-production and shot for eighty-three weeks. It uses labour-intensive stop-motion animation, which is complimented nicely by the all-too-often gimmicky 3D effect. This gives a deceptively fresh feel to a movie that is actually very old fashioned in many ways. As a story, it looks back to a long tradition of children’s literature and its referents are many and well worn.

The word ‘dark’ will be used ad nauseam to describe this film but there is an important distinction to be made here. Coraline deals with fear and loneliness but there is no dark intent lurking beneath that. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The Jeremy Kyle Show is dark. My Super Sweet 16 is dark. Coraline is relatively life-affirming. As a viewer who generally doesn’t like children’s movies, I was delighted not to be bombarded with the usual deafening, musical shout-fest that seems to be required to keep a young audience’s attention. Already, loathsome Internet commentary is clogging up the websites of reputable publications with complaints like ‘it was boring and my children fell asleep and it had no singing’. Be warned. Coraline is relatively slow paced, there is no simplistic anodyne moralising and, like most works of this kind of beauty, it is undoubtedly the creation of a sad heart.

Angela Nagle
(See biog here)

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
is released on 8th May 2009
Coraline – Official Website