‘Coraline’

Plenty of people dismiss animated features as mere "cartoons."

These days, however, far too many live-action movies truly are cartoons — flat, exaggerated and dumbed-down.

But "Coraline" — the latest animated feature from stop-motion wizard Henry Selick — exhibits far more artistry, and more humanity, than plenty of so-called "real" movies.

Thanks (or no thanks) to his association with Tim Burton, Selick doesn’t get the credit he deserves for directing 1993’s "The Nightmare Before Christmas," which has become a holiday-season staple.

Selick struck out on his own for 1996’s fanciful "James and the Giant Peach," based on the book by Roald Dahl.

And with "Coraline," the animator adapts another storybook favorite: Neil Gaiman’s satisfyingly shivery tale of a little girl whose curiosity leads her to some very unsettling discoveries.

Think Dorothy longing to explore somewhere over the rainbow.

Or Alice venturing forth — not into Wonderland, but through the looking-glass, where she finds a curiously familiar yet slightly off-kilter world.

That’s precisely what happens to Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning). Not Caroline, as she reminds everyone who keeps mispronouncing her name.

Naturally, Coraline’s parents (voiced by "Desperate Housewives’ " Teri Hatcher and "The Daily Show’s" John Hodgman) don’t do that.

They’re too busy typing away at their computers to do anything else, now that they’ve uprooted the family and moved from snowy Michigan to Ashland, Ore.

Home to one of America’s great Shakespeare festivals, Ashland provides an ideal opportunity for Coraline’s parents to indulge their mutual interest in gardening. Unfortunately, Coraline’s parents don’t seem to have much interest in helping her grow.

But at least their new abode — a pink Victorian mansion that’s been divided into apartments — provides some extremely eccentric neighbors to satisfy Coraline’s appetite for adventure.

There’s impish neighbor Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.), who likes to eat bugs. Or Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane), a Russian acrobat who insists that the deliveries of noxiously aromatic cheese are for his endlessly-in-rehearsal circus mice. And two other showbiz veterans, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (played by "Absolutely Fabulous" veterans Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French), still behave as though they’re headlining such risqué entertainments as "King Leer." But these outsize characters lose their allure once Coraline discovers a tiny door at the base of a wall — one that opens to a cavelike passage leading to an alternate reality that looks very like her own.

Except that Coraline’s parents, rather than ignoring her, indulge her every whim. Rather than a drab space, her room resembles a fairy-tale realm. Mr. Bobinsky’s mouse circus is a genuine wow — and the Misses Spink and Forcible return to the stage.

Indeed, Coraline’s alternate world is ever so enticing — except, perhaps, for the black buttons that have replaced everyone’s eyes, an unsettling signal that not all is quite right in this tidy paradise.

Clearly, "Coraline" isn’t geared toward the littlest ones, even though they might delight, along with everyone else, in the movie’s pop-up storybook look. (And yes, by all means, see "Coraline" in 3-D; the effects enhance rather than overwhelm the imaginative imagery.)

Once the movie’s dark psychological dreamscape (or, more accurately, nightmare-scape) takes hold, however, "Coraline" delves into some truly macabre territory, with plenty to ponder in the "be careful what you wish for" category.

Yet "Coraline" also has some piercing insights regarding the importance of being yourself — and how vital it is to approach life with your eyes open. (That’s a lot easier to do if you don’t have shiny black buttons where your eyes ought to be.)

Selick’s screenplay takes its time introducing, and developing, Coraline’s weirdly fascinating world, but there’s so much to enjoy along the way that it matters not a whit.

Visually, "Coraline" emerges as a quiet stunner. It’s got eye-popping sequences, to be sure, but they exist to serve the story, not the other way around. (Which is exactly as it should be.)

The movie’s all-star vocal ensemble adds intriguing quirks to characters who are nothing if not quirky, from Keith David’s inscrutably know-it-all cat to Fanning’s feisty Coraline. And Hatcher has a field day parodying her "Desperate Housewives" day job as Coraline’s frazzled real-life mom — and her too-good-to-be-true reflection, who inhabits the alluring alternate reality.

Yet it’s the stop-motion figures themselves who steal the show. They’re so vivid and expressive, in both body and facial movements, that they cease being mere puppets and take on a life all their own.

Ideally, that’s what movie characters should always do. But sometimes it takes a cartoon to lead the way.

Contact movie critic Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

ad-high_impact_4
Entertainment
Nevada Ballet Theatre rehearses for "Dracula" at The Smith Center
Nevada Ballet Theatre rehearses for "Dracula" at The Smith Center (Janna Karel/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Downtown Summerlin hosts its annual Festival of Arts
People crowd to Downtown Summerlin for the 23rd annual Summerlin Festival of Arts in Las Vegas, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio, MGM Resorts International’s luxury hotel turns 20
The more than 3,000-room Bellagio hotel is situated on the site of the former Dunes Hotel. The Dunes was imploded in 1993, and construction of the Bellagio started in 1996. It cost $1.6 billion to build, making it the most expensive hotel in the world at the time. The Bellagio was former Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chairman and CEO Steve Wynn’s second major casino on the Strip after The Mirage. MGM Resorts International acquired the property from Steve Wynn in 2000. (Tara Mack/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Recycled Art and Cute Dogs at Summerlin Festival Of Arts
Recycled Art, Cute Dogs Abound At Summerlin Festival Of Arts (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio Patisserie Creates Life-size Sculpture Of 20th Anniversary Of Cirque Du Soleil Show
Bellagio Patisserie Creates Life-size Sculpture Of 20th Anniversary Of Cirque Du Soleil Show (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
10 Most Iconic Moments At The Bellagio Fountains
10 Most Iconic Moments At The Bellagio Fountains (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jason Aldean talks about the possibility of a Las Vegas residency
Country superstar Jason Aldean discusses his feelings about playing in Las Vegas and says he'd be interested in a Las Vegas residency when the time is right at the iHeart Radio Music Festival in Las Vegas on September 21, 2018.(John Katsilometes/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Block 16 Urban Food Hall Serves Favorite Foods From Across The US
Block 16 Urban Food Hall Serves Favorite Foods From Across The US (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Benny the Skating Dog could be the next Golden Knights on-ice entertainment
Benny the Skating Dog could be the next Golden Knights on-ice entertainment (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who To Watch At Life Is Beautiful
Life Is Beautiful Setup
Workers preparing Fremont street for this weekend's Life is Beautiful festival, on Wednesday, September 19, 2018. Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal
The 46th annual Greek Food Festival will feed 25,000 people in Las Vegas
Madame Tussauds Has The Newest VR Experience On The Strip
Madame Tussauds Has The Newest VR Experience On The Strip. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Zia Records Move
Zias Records is moving from its Sahara Avenue and Arville Street location to a bigger store. (Mat Luscheck/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Students At The International Contortion Convention In Las Vegas Learn How To Bend And Twist Their Bodies
Students At The International Contortion Convention In Las Vegas Learn How To Bend And Twist Their Bodies. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Video from Fertitta wedding Sep. 1
video from @wedstagrams of Fertitta wedding at Red Rock Resort
You Can Get Vegan Unicorn Toast In Downtown Las Vegas
You Can Get Vegan Unicorn Toast In Downtown Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Five must-see bands at Psycho Las Vegas 2018
Five must-see bands at Psycho Las Vegas 2018
Zuma's Ice Cube Carving Is Satisfying To Watch
Zuma's Ice Cube Carving Is Satisfying To Watch (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Therapy In Downtown Las Vegas Serves Cast Iron S'mores
Therapy In Downtown Las Vegas Serves Cast Iron S'mores. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like