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February 8, 2009 - Ken Womack
Coraline ***

Based on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman, Coraline is a visually stunning—and, at times, disturbing—work of 3D animation. Entirely unpredictable and often strange beyond description, Coraline is must-see entertainment for fans of movies like Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Written and directed for the screen by Henry Selick, Coraline traces the story of the Jones family’s relocation to Oregon, where they move into a decaying 150-year-old mansion. The narrative revolves around Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning), a moody pre-teen who is bored with her dilapidated new surroundings, not to mention her workaholic parents. Her mother (voiced by Teri Hatcher) and father (voiced by John Hodgman) spend their days glued to their computers writing text for a horticulture catalog.
The mansion is populated by a host of eccentric characters, including upstairs neighbor Mr. Bobinsky (voiced by Ian McShane), who directs an intricately choreographed mouse circus. As if things couldn’t get any more bizarre, a pair of aging vaudevillians, Miss Spink (voiced by Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Forcible (voiced by Dawn French), reside in the mansion’s sprawling basement.
A lonely child in an alien place, Coraline becomes fast, albeit awkward friends with Wybie (voiced by Robert Bailey, Jr.), a scooter-riding daredevil and know-it-all. And then there’s the scraggly neighborhood cat (voiced by Keith David), who becomes Coraline’s boon companion throughout this fractured, mind-challenging tale.
Things come to a head when Coraline, like some demented Alice in Wonderland, crawls into the mansion’s subterranean netherworld, where her button-eyed Other Mother and Other Father lead fantastic alternate lives. And that’s when the frightening, spine-tingling fun really begins.
As a work of 3D animation, Coraline is an unrepentant spectacle for the senses. To Selick’s great credit, the film deftly balances its terrifying alternate realities with the forward momentum of its storyline. While the movie’s narrative falls well short of being as compelling and artistically minded as its visual effects, Coraline deserves our attention, if nothing else, for the ways in which it challenges the boundaries of our imaginations.


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