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September 7, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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Coraline (based on the Neil Gaiman novella of the same name) is the story of the eponymous, terminally bored 11-year-old (Dakota Fanning) who, craving excitement and adventure, discovers a tunnel to a mirror world where everything is far more interesting than her original life. The only snag is that her “other mother” (Teri Hatcher) wants to replace her eyes with buttons and keep her there forever.

The debut effort from animation studio Laika, and directed by Henry Selick (Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach), Coraline’s stop-motion animation (in 3D where available) is definitely a sight to behold. Writhing with meticulous detail, the elaborate sets, models and costumes make it easy to forget that you’re watching models that were pain-stakingly posed and photographed as opposed to graphics rendered on a computer.

Other elements of the film are just as slick. The voice work (from a well-known cast that includes John Hodgeman, French & Saunders, and Ian McShane) is top notch, the scene transitions are seamless, and the soundtrack does an excellent job of gleefully playing along as everything gets creepier and creepier.

Neil Gaiman fans, however, should have taken note of Coraline’s fable and been more careful about what they wished for. Bereft of internal narration, Selick (who also wrote the screenplay) resorts to adding the character of Wybie—seemingly only for the sake of expositional dialogue. Wybie’s involvement detracts from Coraline’s solitary investigation, as well as her relationship with the Cat (Keith David), and culminates in a new, ultimately weaker, ending.

It seems that in the perilous transition from page to screen, the Hugo-award-winning novella lost its spark. Maybe it gave it to the animators?

Novella aside (because judging a book-made-film on its original is never a fair fight): while visually glorious, Coraline failed to catch me in the way that I was hoping it to. Nevertheless, it’s a remarkable piece of animation and certainly worth seeing, even purely on its visual merits.

Written and directed by Henry Selick
With Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgeman, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Ian McShane

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