Stop-motion ‘Coraline’ could be a classic

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, February 5, 2009 5:20pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

One of the problems with stop-motion animation is how long it takes to do it: the meticulous effort involved in photographing all those separate pieces of film and moving the little models.

This probably helps explains why Henry Selick, the director of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James and the Giant Peach,” has been absent from movie screens for a while.

Selick is back with a picture that taps the funny-creepy-­special vibe of those two wonderful films: “Coraline,” based on a young person’s novel by comic-book high priest Neil Gaiman.

The title character is a little girl (voiced with spirit by Dakota Fanning) getting to know a big rambly house after moving there with her distracted, busy parents.

She discovers a secret passageway that, amazingly, leads to a mirror image of her household, where everything looks spiffier and her parents are much more fun. (Both sets of parents are voiced by Teri Hatcher and Jon Hodgman.)

In fact, everything’s as she wants it in the second house. Even the lippy new neighbor boy is, in this world, silent.

Hmm. That’s a little odd, actually. And why does everybody have buttons instead of eyes, like spooky dolls?

The sinister side comes out in a very satisfactory way, as Selick proves that the dark humor of “Nightmare Before Christmas” was not entirely the work of producer Tim Burton.

“Coraline” looks and sounds spectacular, too, with that bizarre otherworldliness of stop-motion puppets (there’s some computer animation, but much of the film is reportedly old-style stop-motion stuff), and haunting music by Bruno Coulais.

And it’s all in 3-D, or at least it is in some theaters. This gives extra dazzle to the movie’s best sequences, which include some wild circus things and an incredible troupe of performing mice.

In fact, the first half of “Coraline” is so good it looks like an instant classic funny and clever, but shaded with eerie little touches.

I can’t put my finger on why the film wanders off this level in the later going, but it does suffer from a curious lack of forward motion, and crawls to its finish.

Did we mention it’s creepy?

“Coraline” will probably scare the bejeebers out of really little kids, and there are a few moments that will give experienced grown-ups a ghostly chill. In the best possible way.

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