Directed By: Henry Selick
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman
Tag line: "Be careful what you wish for"
Trivia: For this movie, over 130 sets were built across 52 different studio sound stages
As he did with 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, director and stop-motion animator Henry Selick infuses 2009's Coraline with plenty of style and personality, all to tell the story of a young girl whose perfect dream world quickly turns into a nightmare.
Having just moved to the “Pink Palace”, a former Victorian mansion that’s been split into several apartments, Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) finds that there’s not much for an 11-year-old to do. What’s more, her new neighbors, a pair of retired stage actors named Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Forcible (Dawn French); and Russian acrobat Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane), are exceedingly peculiar, and don’t make for good company. Not even Wyborne (Robert Bailey Jr.), a kid who lives nearby with his grandmother, is much of a companion, and with her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) so engrossed in their work all the time, poor Coraline can’t help but feel alone and forgotten.
Then, while exploring her new home, the young girl discovers a small door, covered over with wallpaper, that leads to a fascinating world, one that looks like a more interesting version of her new surroundings. Here, she meets her “other” mother and father (also voiced by Hatcher and Hodgman), who, instead of working, spend their time catering to her every need and desire. But according to the stray black cat that hangs around with her (Keith David), which can talk in this bizarre universe, Coraline’s “other” mother is not as friendly as she appears, and is planning to trick the gullible girl into staying in this alternate reality with her… forever.
Like The Nightmare Before Christmas, the animation in Coraline is stunning. From the opening scene, where a pair of mechanized hands disassembles a rag doll, then re-makes it to look exactly like Coraline, Selick and his team drew me into this fantastic world, which became even more colorful (and more intriguing) as the movie wore on. During one of her visits to the “other” reality, Coraline stops by the apartment of the alternate Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, where she’s treated to a most unusual stage show, and a similar encounter in the “other” Mr. Bobinsky’s flat is equally as vibrant and imaginative. Featuring set pieces so elaborate that they required an entire 140,000 square foot warehouse in Hillsboro, Oregon to hold them, Coraline is a visual smorgasbord.
Along with its animation, Coraline boasts some lively characters, each brought convincingly to life by the film’s fine collection of voice actors. Dakota Fanning is beyond great as Coraline, while Keith David gets in touch with his feline side, lending his distinctive baritone to the sometimes sinister black cat. Standing above the rest, though, are Teri Hatcher in the dual role of Coraline’s indifferent real mom and her overly sweet “other” mother; and Ian McShane, who's nearly unrecognizable as the eccentric Mr. Bolinsky. Their talents, combined with the film’s awesome stop-motion, help transform Coraline into a movie as lush and beautiful as anything its director had done before.