Henry Selick, the stop-motion animation genius behind “James and the Giant Peach” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, returns with another stroke of brilliance – “Coraline”. Adapted from the Neil Gaiman graphic novel, Coraline is the story of a bored little girl who gets much more than she bargained for in a delightfully dark fairy tale. Voiced by Dakota Fanning, Coraline and her parents move into the Pink House, a ramshackle Victorian with the oddest tenants. There is the acrobatic Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane) and his trained circus rats upstairs. While the aged retired actress sisters Miss Miriam (Dawn French) and Miss April (Jennifer Saunders) live downstairs with their legion of Scottie dogs. Coraline has no other playmates her age except the annoying Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.), whose grandmother owns the Pink House, and is surprised she would rent the place to a couple with children.

Coraline, in her boredom, finds two strange objects, a doll of her likeness with button eyes and an old key. One night while everyone else is asleep, a mysterious door appears. She uses the key to open the door and is transported into a world that looks like hers, but is much more wonderful. There, her other mother and father cook the best meals and have all the time in the world to spend with her. The other Mr. Bobinsky delights with amazing performances of his talented rats. And the other Miss April and Miss Dawn put on shows that have their Scotties barking in glee. But there’s something odd about this ‘other’ place. The other Wybie cannot speak, and seems terrified. And every ‘other’ has buttons for their eyes. It is only when the Pink House’s mangy black Cat (Keith David) speaks, does Coraline realize she’s in big trouble. Cat tells her that this ‘other’ place is not a fantasy, but very real and very dangerous. It has stolen the souls of many children, and Coraline will be another casualty if she’s not careful.

I absolutely loved this film. We are constantly inundated with happy-go-lucky children’s stories in overblown CGI. Here is the anti-Disney film, a dark and prickly story that may just give the little ones a fright. Selick returns to form with his uncompromising artistic talent. The world of Coraline is masterfully envisioned to the smallest detail. These are puppets, painstakingly moved inch by inch on giant sets. Selick does incorporate more computer animation this time around by shooting Caroline with 3D, high definition, digital cameras. The result is an immersive 3D experience without the cartoonish CGI experience. It is a perfect marriage of old school animation techniques and modern cinema watching technology.

Coraline is the first must-see family film of 2009. It’s Brothers Grimm fairy tale with modern storytelling aspects. While big studio cartoons have no darkness whatsoever, Coraline has moments of dread that are scarily satisfying. It’s not overdone, so the target audience will get the right amount of chills and the grownups won’t be bored at all. Try not to miss it in 3D!

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