Coraline begins with its heroine in a sorry predicament. Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is new in town, and with the exception of her immediate family, everyone refers to her incorrectly as Caroline. However, as frustrating as that may be, she's long since resigned herself to living in a world that perpetually mispronounces her name. The real problem is that Coraline has explored virtually every inch of her new house and its surrounding property (her findings include a boarded-up well rumored to be bottomless, or at least really deep, and a stray black cat too smart for its own good), and she's now excruciatingly, mind-numbingly bored. Her life is safe but unexciting; her parents are kind but unavailable, and the closest thing she has to friends are her neighbors (two washed-up actresses and the would-be ringmaster of a circus staffed entirely by trained mice) and the landlord's grandson, whom Coraline treats with the disdain expected of a girl her age -- especially after he gives her a doll sewn in her image as if she were the kind of girl to play with dolls. Even the mysterious little door hidden behind old wallpaper is a letdown; at first glance it leads to a bricked up wall Coraline's mother believes was erected in the house when it was divided into separate apartments.
Of course, the door isn't just a door, the cat isn't just a cat, and the doll isn't just a doll. They're all connected to an Other world almost exactly the same as Coraline's, with a few major exceptions: it's magic, much more dangerous, and ruled by a malevolent woman who first disguises herself as Coraline's "Other Mother" (voiced by Teri Hatcher), identical to her real mother save for having buttons instead of eyes. She lavishes Coraline with attention and adventure, but living in her wonderland comes at a steep price. Those familiar with Neil Gaiman's work, particularly his children's books, know that he writes a world as fantastic and charming as it is macabre and dangerous. An adaptation of Coraline was a worrisome prospect, because Coraline is only a children's book by the thinnest of margins, and toning down the creep factor would have done a great disservice to all involved. Thankfully, Coraline is appropriately dark, and like its inspiration, is only a children's movie by the thinnest of margins. Director Henry Selick's experiences directing The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach have served Coraline well; the Other world is somewhere Jack Skellington and Roald Dahl would build their summer homes. It's hard to lose oneself in a film that is Coraline's combination of ingredients -- fictional, animated, and 3-D -- but that's exactly what happens. Coraline is equal parts fanciful, menacing, beautiful, and subversive. The result is an audience -- adult as well as children -- that doesn't feel at all silly rooting passionately for Coraline to listen to the talking cat and get out of bizarro land before it's too late. leave a comment --Tracie Cooper