It's pretty darn hard not to be impressed by the miniature, handmade world brought to life in Coraline. The painstakingly careful process of making the movie is mind-boggling when you think about it and the end result is extremely cool to watch on a giant screen in 3-D. Stop-motion animation is an art form all its own, and it's truly a delight to watch this strange and sometimes very scary story told using this medium. Whether it's the real-life objects that are moving and talking or the 3-D experience, the fact is that it's remarkably easy to become absorbed into this world. Basically, Coraline is immensely entertaining.
The story, from Neil Gaiman's book, is more intriguing — and way darker — than most animated movies that are ostensibly geared toward children. The look and feel of the visuals only further darkens the tone. Coraline is a clever, no-nonsense girl who just moved into a new home with her parents. Both parents are writers who work from home — but that doesn't mean Coraline has constant companionship as they shoo her away at practically every turn. But one night, Coraline opens a small door in the living room, which leads her to a warm, colorful alternate world in which everything about her life is the same — only better. She has all the food and sweets she desires, her mother and father are engaging and attentive, and they create spectacular things for her. There's always a catch, though, so
If Coraline wishes to stay in this world, she must replace her eyes with buttons and promise to stay with her "Other Mother" forever. The ghosts of children who succumbed to the appeal of their "other" worlds haunt Coraline and warn her not to give in, but by that point, the Other Mother has trapped Coraline and she must figure out how to escape, while helping the ghosts of those children along the way.
Admittedly, I'm not sure what the movie would be like if one were watching it on a small screen, or if the magic would be less potent if it weren't for the 3-D aspect. I wondered at times if I were so engaged in the story because of the visuals, or whether I'd find it so cool without the larger-than-life screen. I really don't know. Still, it doesn't take away from the accomplishment of bringing to jerky, spooky life this miniature world, all blown up.
I spent the duration of the film enraptured by this tale, these characters, and the visual ride I was on, and I spent days afterward excitedly marveling at the wonder of it all. If you already dislike animation and stop-motion, then Coraline won't change that. But if you allow yourself to be pulled in completely, the reward is an eerie-sweet feast for the eyes.
Images courtesy of Focus Features