'Coraline' explores a dark, imaginative fairy tale

by Bill Wine
Posted 3/12/21

Be careful what you wish for. Who knows what they're spraying on that allegedly greener grass?

That's the lesson learned by the title character in the animated cautionary adventure, …

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'Coraline' explores a dark, imaginative fairy tale

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Be careful what you wish for. Who knows what they're spraying on that allegedly greener grass?

That's the lesson learned by the title character in the animated cautionary adventure, “Coraline” – a high-definition stop-motion 2009 animated film based on Neil Gaiman's best-selling 2002 novella. It casts a spell as a “Through the Looking Glass”-ish fantasy, aimed primarily at children, that's willing to scare those children just enough to challenge and entertain them.

Coraline Jones, voiced by Dakota Fanning, is an 11-year-old only child living in a new home, a boarding house with other tenants, who is both bored and ignored. By her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman), that is, who are busy with their work and preoccupied with their new digs.

Coraline explores her new home and finds a secret door that she walks through and finds herself in an odd-looking tunnel that takes her into a home very much like hers that offers her an alternate version of her life – basically similar, superficially parallel, but strangely skewed

Her neighbors are more friendly and this other home is warmer, easier, and more inviting. Yep, it's eerily accommodating, catering to Coraline's wants and needs in a way she's not used to: here she feels like a princess rather than an afterthought.

Alternate versions of her parents exist in this parallel dimension, where the only immediate difference that Coraline notices – although it's a whopper – is that Other Mother and Other Father happen to have buttons sewn over their eyes.

And there's the catch: She too is supposed to sew buttons over her eyes. And stay there forever.

Whoops.

“Coraline” is a dark, edgy fairy tale, a benevolent nightmare, but a nightmare nonetheless. Writer-director Henry Selick is willing to stimulate young viewers' imaginations with material that can be on the frightening side, but both the movie and its audience are better for it.

More funny/peculiar than funny/ha ha, Coralinecould be more satisfying, but it certainly realizes its ambition to explore childhood dreams that could turn out to be nightmares. Mere escapism is not the intent.

“Coraline” is an imaginative, surreal, hand-crafted toon for all but the very young.

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