Why do I find myself having to watch 'children's' films in order to see innovative design, witty scripts and feel moved in some way? We can discuss that together below (although the yawning silence that greeted my request for feedback on Synecdoche, New York was not encouraging - unless you were all playing some kind of sick joke on me and providing me with the only appropriate response to a film like that), let's get on with Coraline. Any fans of Henry Selick's previous stop-frame animation features, James And The Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas will definitely want to see this as it continues that vein of work, looking slicker and more adventurous than ever without losing any of the charm that comes from using genuine puppets rather than CGI.
Based on Neil Gaiman's book of the same name, the film begins as Coraline moves with her parents to an apartment in a slightly dilapidated house in the country. Basically ignored by her parents she goes exploring finding first a deep well, then a neighbouring boy, Wybie, and then within the house a small door that she later discovers leads to a parallel world, similar to her own but better in every way. Here she meets her 'other' mother and father, again similar but improved and chillingly sporting buttons in place of their eyes. As they try to convince her to stay there rather than return and Wybie tells Coraline more and more about the disappearance of his grandmother's sister she realises the danger she is in and will have to fight hard, with a little help from a feral cat, to get back the family she wants.
Make no mistake, this film is dark. The first half an hour or so is harmless enough but once the plot darkens there are some pretty 'scary images', as the official parental guidance puts it. Which is great of course, I'm all for scaring the pants off kids, but I'd keep the younger ones on some safer fare for the moment. The performances work well , the visuals are striking, the design really beautiful in places, it's easy to see why the critics were so enthusiastic about it. Just get past the slow opening and you'll be rewarded by some stunning work, and a quick glance at the making-of documentary will give you an idea of the deliberation and attention to detail that helps make it that way.