The utterly enchanting new film from Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach), adapted from an enchanting tale by Neil Gaiman, is a beguiling stop motion charmer. So charming in fact while the 3-D gimmick attached to film is beautiful, it's also unnecessary. No such gimmickry should be required to get folks to theater for this. Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is your typical young girl, an adventurous tween trapped in small town malaise. Her parents are too focused on their garden book catalogue (despite a disinterest in actual gardening or the outdoors-- too dirty says mother), and she's just moved to a new town. Left alone to her own devices, Coraline is left to her imagination. Well that an a handful of odd people in her housing complex-- the awkward neighbor child Wybie (his name literaly translated to "Why be born?"), the upstairs rat contortionist Mr. Bobinsky (voiced by Ian McShane), and the spinster sisters downstairs (voiced by the "Absolutely Fabulous" team of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders to utter perfection.) The beginning portion of Coraline is a bit slow, but not in a bad way, in a character and visually building way. What feels so authentic in the first half is that even in it's splendor-ific stop motion universe, the film really vividly gives off the ennui and loniliness that childhood can often be. There's a beautiful montage of a bored Coraline counting the windows and doors of her strange new Victorian home-- made moving by the beautiful accompaniment of Bruno Coulais' wonderful score.
And what's in that strange Victorian house, but a portal to an alternate world-- a trippy and colorful Alice in Wonderland fantasy land, where alternate mother and father are attentive and fun. (For the record, Coraline's mother is voiced by Teri Hatcher in both real and alternate world form, and while I will never claim myself a fan, her voice work here is terrific; Coraline's faher is voiced by John Hodgman.) Her neighbors are fun, existing only to perform for her; the outside gardens are plush and magnificent (a prime example of visual eye candy in every shot of this marvelous film-- of course Selick is a pro at this), even Wybie is there, without the ability of speech (much to Coraline's delight.) But as with Alice, there's always a price in wonderland, and soon Coraline learns the truth to her alternate reality and the hell that it really is. I'll stop on the story, but it's clever in it's twists of expectations. My only qualm is I wish Coraline had opened last year so it would have been Oscar nominated. So rejoice this beautiful film-- in 3-D or not.