Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor, 100 minutes
Original, enjoyably fun but dark "Coraline"
"Coraline" underscores the warning to watch out what you wish you - you just may get it and then some. And often, things we wish for are not things we really want. The animated, stop-motion "Coraline" is fun and whimiscal, but with a dark, sometimes weird and creepy-funny tone. It's story, based on the best-selling, award-winning Neil Gaiman novel, is highly original, whimsically peculiar with some good messages for the younger set. Some intense moments in the climax may scare some younger kids, and while I recommend it, I'd also be careful at taking anyone under the age of 10 or so.
Coraline (voiced by Dakota) is a pre-teen who just moved to a spacious, old home with her odd parents ("Desperate Housewives" Teri Hatcher and character actor John Hodgman), who run a website about gardening though they don't have an affinity for dirt. There are some other eccentric tenants in the house as well, including a washed-up acrobat Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane) and two elderly, retired stage actresses Ms. Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Ms. Forcible (Dawn French), not to mention a chatty, odd young boy named Wybie Lovat (Robert Bailey Jr.) and his black cat.
With Coraline's parents too busy for her to even adequately cook for her, she's left to her own devices, and she wishes for an alternate, happier life. She crawls through a secret door to an alternate, parallel life that is seemingly happier. She has "other" parents that eerily resemble her own parents, except with buttons for eyes. They fix her wonderful, delicious meals and spend their time taking care of Coraline and the their huge, beautiful garden. However, Coraline quickly realizes that things aren't so happy in the alternate life and especially her Other Mother isn't who she seems, and tries to permanently keep Coraline in her alternate life forever.
Henry Selick, who directed the equally odd but brilliant animated films "James and the Giant Peach" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" expertly helms "Coraline," balancing an odd but funny quirkiness along with some dark, creepy elements. Many odd elements of Gaiman's award-winning novel remain intact (those button eyes in the alternate universe are quite creepy, even when you get used to them). "Coraline" is well-voiced by Dakota Fanning (you can also see her in "Push" this weekend too) and especially Teri Hatcher in a nice, good mother-bad mother turn.
The movie is nearly stolen by Saunders and French playing the retired actresses, and their routine in the alternate universe in front of a bunch of small black dogs and Coraline is the film's highlight (let's just say that one of them, is, uh, top-heavy). Keith David, a very familiar character actor with an even more familiar voice, has a good time voicing the cat in the alternate universe. "Coraline" has a dark tone and a quick enough pace that most of the younger ones will be interested, and the stop-motion animation is exquisite, clean, smooth and very colorful.
The climax is intense, dark and even scary, but it reinforces the need to be thankful for what you have, especially your family, regardless of their quirks. "Coraline" is one of the best films of the new year and one of the best animated films of the new year. It may not be for all kids, but it's an enjoyable, entertaining experience.