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Enchanting Coraline great for kids and adults, but skip 3-D

by Glen Baity

It’s the rare and wonderful story that reveals the magic hiding right under your nose. For this, there are few more effective than author Neil Gaiman. His body of work, from novels to comics to children’s books, brims with imagination, adventure and wicked humor. Coraline, the new film by The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick, adapts Gaiman’s 2002 novel of the same name, capturing the wit, warmth and occasional terror in this modern fairy tale.Shot using an intricate stop-motion process, the film tells the story of young Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning), an only child who has just moved to an enormous old house in a new town with her workaholic parents. Ignored and bored, she starts exploring her new digs, an activity that turns interesting when she finds a hidden cubby hole in the parlor. What lies behind it: a tunnel to the same parlor in the same house, only better. Her parents are there, but they’re nicer, more attentive and always cooking something delicious. The annoying neighbor kid is there, but he doesn’t talk. There’s always music to dance to, a show to see, something fun going on. And it all centers on Coraline. It would all be perfect, except for the disturbing matter of the buttons sewn on where everyone’s eyes should be. Soon enough, the fa’ade begins to crack, and Coraline learns the true nature of the world she’s uncovered. Coraline is wholly faithful to the spirit of Gaiman’s novel, which at its heart is a cautionary tale about having what you want and wanting what you have. But director Selick, who also adapted the script, brings his own singular style to the story. His army of animators and designers has crafted a unique, amazing experience here. The character and set design are stunning, and you’ll be surprised and delighted at what Selick is able to do with stop-motion, an antique process that looks nothing less than revolutionary in Coraline. The film benefits from a great vocal cast, which besides a capable performance by Fanning includes a menacing turn by Teri Hatcher. I’m also a big fan of Keith David, who makes an appearance as Coraline’s feline friend, and Ian McShane, one of the girl’s oddball neighbors. High marks all around. The only aspect that seems unnecessary is the 3-D, which distracts from what should be an immersive experience. Coraline is the latest film in Hollywood’s push to resurrect the technology, and while it works just fine, it’s a case of gilding the lily — this is such a creative, beautifully rendered film it hardly needs a set of goggles to enhance it. Admittedly, I had nothing but praise for 2007’s Beowulf in 3-D, but it simply didn’t have as much to offer visually or emotionally as Coraline. The technology surely has its place; I just don’t think it’s in a film like this. Also, I’m not sure if this is universal or if it was just at my screening, but the glasses came with an unwelcome dark tint that made it harder to see some of the fine detail, especially in the nighttime scenes.

I can’t wait to watch the film at home, in ultra-low-tech 2-D, so I can better appreciate the craftsmanship. That gripe aside, Coraline is a fantastic film for most ages. It might be a little scary for younger kids — this is a fairy tale in the Grimm Brothers tradition, and at times it’s quite dark and intense. But most everyone else will find something great here, a fun ride full of surprises that will excite the kid in anyone.

To comment on this article, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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