A young girl (Dakota Fanning) walks through a secret door in her new home and discovers an alternate version of her life. On the surface, this parallel reality is eerily similar to her real life – only much better. But when her adventure turns dangerous, and her counterfeit parents (including Other Mother) try to keep her forever, Coraline must count on her resourcefulness, determination, and bravery to get back home – and save her family.

A thrilling, chilling depiction of childhood contradiction.

If sugar and spice are what little girls are made of, Henry Selick’s Coraline is a near-perfect soufflé of female empowerment. Adorably sweet and eerily unsettling, this majestic exercise in tween-goth fantasy goes to the darkest corners of a child’s imagination and reminds us that it ain’t always easy being a kid, but it is a lot of fun.

Selick has found a creative soulmate in cult British author Neil Gaiman, whose multi-award winning 2002 novel must have seemed heaven-sent to the director of the Grimm-like masterworks The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and James And The Giant Peach (1996). Just as he drew inspiration from working from Tim Burton and Roald Dahl source material with those films, Selick digs deep from Gaiman’s rich novel, and displays a shared understanding of both the author’s inventiveness and of a little girl’s loneliness.

Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) has been uprooted from a happy suburban lifestyle and dragged into an isolated shared-living arrangement so that her mom Mel (Teri Hatcher) and dad Charlie (John Hodgman) can work in peace. Desperate to find some fun, Coraline seeks out her neighbours, and they’re all just that little bit kooky: aged ex-showgirls April and Miriam (Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders); faded vaudevillian Mr Bobinsky (Ian McShane) and local scallywag Wybie Lovatt (Robert Bailey Jr.).

Coraline’s adventures begin in earnest when, led by a cheeky mouse and a mysterious doll, she discovers a secret door that leads to an alternate world deep within the walls of her new home. In this universe parents are playful, sweets are plentiful, cats can talk, Mr Bobinsky is a dynamic performance artist, and April and Miriam stage grand productions for a canine theatre audience.

But the joys of the parallel party-house are tempered with sacrifice; her 'Other Mother’ (also Hatcher) insists on keeping her there and, distressingly, wants to replace her eyes with buttons. When Coraline resists, ghostly apparitions warn her of the consequences. Soon, her real parents are taken into the ether of this supernatural landscape and she must set about rescuing them from the increasingly-malevolent clutches of the Other Mother.

For fans of Selick’s past work, the revelation that his stop-motion animation on Coraline breaks new creative ground won’t come as much of a surprise – he is a filmmaker whose artistry has always astounded audiences and critics. It is his decision to utilise 3D technology on the film that sets this apart from both his past works and the 3D films we have seen to date.

Selick is not a show-off and he refuses to allow the 3D enhancement to dictate his film. When he lets fly with the technological assets in all their glory, it is a sight to behold – a flight above a wondrous garden is subtly breathtaking; a joyous song-and-dance routine by the Other Father is giddyingly exhilarating; the interaction between a roomful of spectral children allows for flowing ghostly robes to dance in mid-air. Most unforgettable is the spider-web of black-&-white upon which Coraline and the Other Mother resolve their conflicts, and the evil five-fingered minion that follows our heroine back into the real world. It is inevitable that producers will exploit the new 3D clarity for cheesy effect (My Bloody Valentine 3D – enough said), but we will also have visionaries and artists like Henry Selick to honour the new wave of filmmaking that stands before us.

Like the fairytales of yore, Coraline is pretty creepy. Evoking memories of Alice In Wonderland (a magical land at the end of a tunnel; a talking cat; a parade of eccentrics; an evil female overseer), Selick’s movie does dance with the devil very effectively on a few too many occasions – with a little trepidation I’ll take my 8 year-old to see it (and deal with the sleepless nights should they eventuate), but the 4 year-old stays home. Parents of impressionable littlies should be mindful that the film does descend into a very effective nightmare world in the final reel and some time could be spent shielding eyes from Selick’s more confronting creations.

Or not. Kids do love to discover and be challenged by the mysteries of their own imaginations, and Coraline is born out of those vexing concerns of early youth – parental love, friendships, learning what counts for the most in life. That Selick and Gaiman have packaged it in such a beautifully realised fantasy world only makes it all the more satisfying for audiences of all ages.


1 hour 40 min
In Cinemas 06 August 2009,