Be careful what you wish for ... unless you're wishing for a film like "Coraline," a creepy confection of creative imagery and engaging storytelling.
Neil Gaiman's horror-fantasy novel, about a bored preteen girl who discovers an alternate reality that's too good to be true, has been translated into a stop-motion animation extravaganza by director Henry Selick and his team from "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
"Coraline" is frightful in much the same delightful ways as "Nightmare," and for those of you who choose to see it in 3-D, the filmmakers forgo the usual in-your-face antics in favor of a dazzling multidimensional experience.
- Starring: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman
- Rating: PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor
- Web site: coraline.com
The movie opens with a hint of what's to come that you don't get in the novel: Spindly hands are seen creating a doll with button eyes. The doll that will wind up in the hands of Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning), who's missing her friends after a recent move to an isolated, rickety house.
Her impatient mom (Teri Hatcher) and frazzled dad (John Hodgman) are so busy finishing a plant catalog that they have no time for Coraline, who is sent off to explore her new surroundings on her own. She meets a boy, Wybie, who offers the gift of a button-eyed doll that he found at his grandma's house.
Stuck inside on a particularly gloomy day, Coraline discovers a small door that opens to a brick wall. But in her dreams, the door leads to a not-quite mirror-image world, where she meets her "other mother" and "other father" (also Hatcher and Hodgman). Like the doll, they have button eyes, but in every other way are just what she has always wanted from parents. Her father is attentive and inventive and her mother whips up fabulous meals.
This dream world is an illusion -- or is it?
When Coraline seeks and finds it in her waking hours, the dream becomes a nightmare, which brings us back to, "Be careful what you wish for ..."
The Other Mother transforms into a controlling menace who demands that Coraline stay and be "loved" by her forever. When the girl resists, she's locked up and encounters the spirits of three children who were trapped by "the beldam" long ago.
The determined girl must put aside her fears and, with the help of a resourceful talking cat, rescue those she realizes are most important to her.
Selick and his crew of artists have created ever-changing worlds with delicious eye candy. The neighbors alone provide a long list of frights and delights, including a Busby Berkeley-style circus of mice and two elderly, eccentric vaudevillians who become just plain bizarre (the buxom one performs in pasties and briefs) in that other, nastier place.
The PG-rated film includes threatening, scary imagery and a reminder that fairy tales, even those with happy endings, often include scenes of cruelty and horror.
"Coraline" is every inch a modern fairy tale -- with a visual style that's pure magic.
Sharon Eberson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. First Published February 6, 2009 5:00 AM