The visual feast of 2009 comes in the form of Coraline, helmed by Henry Selick—the director of 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and 1996’s James and the Giant Peach. Based on the book by Neil Gaiman, it is a gothic adventure that is piloted by a rebellious young girl with dyed blue hair that fits her not-so-sunny complexion. Designed for the solemnly, seldom seen medium of stop-motion animation, Coraline is one of Selick’s most vibrant, character-driven pieces. Even though many of his earlier works had intriguing characters, this story is built around the interesting personalities and their many opposites.
Our lead heroine is not your average girl as the hair would suggest. She is fairly irritable, somewhat needy, and constantly putting down others if they do not impress her. This doesn’t make her a bad kid, just one who isn’t quite sure how she relates to the world as of yet. Her concept of the world begins to change when extraordinarily odd things begin to make occasional appearances at the rickety old countryside house. Her recently moved-in family has inadvertently changed it into a domain for busy work; putting Coraline down as a supposed second priority. At first, the oddities reveal themselves as odd neighbors, but there is another side to all of this. Coraline falls into a magical world that is the complete opposite of hers where her parents are cooler than cool, the neighbors are useful and entertaining, and the garden is full of wondrous delights. With her boredom quenched by the rewards, the “Other Mom” who rules this domain wants a couple sacrifices to be made as well. It is a great lesson for all kinds of kids, which says that asking for a whole lot more can be a little too much to handle and that one should be grateful for what they already have.
Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, and Ian McShane lend their great voices to both worlds, worldly and otherworldly. I also have to applaud Selick for casting Keith David as The Cat, the story’s voice of reason, which fits David like a furry glove. The experience is also heightened by a hauntingly, original score by Bruno Coulais, reminiscent of a cross between composer Danny Elfman and nature mix artist/musician Philip Kent Bimstein. Put it altogether and you get a magical treat for any adventurer at any age.