Henry Selick, director of cult-classic and animation masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas, offers up another piece of animation magic and proves that he can do so without the creative help of Tim Burton. Of course, working from a story written by graphic novel wizard Neil Gaiman certainly has its advantages.
The star and titular character of the story, Coraline, is the perfect imaginative kid for a perfect imaginative tale, set in a similar vein as the children from Narnia or even Dorothy Gale… if both were re-imagined by the aforementioned Tim Burton. Gaiman, of course, is absolutely no stranger to all things eerie as this tale clearly shows. Coraline, voiced by Dakota Fanning, is a bit of an A-type brat and ignored by her typically over-worked 21st century parents who spend more time in front of a laptop screen than listening to their only offspring. And so the tale begins.
Coraline is whisked away into the troublesome but adventuresome (and aren’t they always?) “Other” world where, at first, her Other-Mother and Other-Father treat her to a royal treatment, one she’s not used to back at her real home. Then, as is apt to occur with such fairy tales, the young girl indeed finds out that strange things are afoot at the Circle K. The viewer is whisked away into yet another gorgeous world of stop-motion animation where Selick’s imaginative realism borders on pop-art candy for kids and something more sinisterly macabre that would certainly induce nightmares for the under-10 crowd, including ghost children, a wanna-be mouse-circus ringleader, and retired actresses whose age could be counted like the rings from a tree.
As it is easy enough to imagine, the promises and threats of the Other-world soon have real implications in the real one. Selick animates stunning images of cobwebs, raindrops, and creepy spaces along with a fun cast of characters, including a know-it-all cat perfectly voiced by Keith David. Aside from the goth-lite plot and a nearly-too convenient wrap-up, Selick does his very best to keep the craft of his animation at the peak of its form while also using it to benefit the story, something that Burton seemed to forget in the not-quite-as-hip Corpse Bride (2005).
Fun, beautiful to watch and perhaps wrongly-targeted to a kiddie crowd that Pixar usually caters to, Coraline is a winner. And, perhaps if released in Pixar-free year, would have been an Oscar winner as well.