Henry Selick's Coraline has all the elements it needs to be a classic, but falls disappointingly short. The film is the first stop-motion animation to be shot stereoscopically and presented in 3D. As you would expect from the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, this element of production is used to its full creative potential, resulting in an enigmatic and fanciful handcrafted world. Unfortunately, the screenplay is not shaped by the same creative vigour as the visual aspects of the movie.
Based on Neil Gaiman's international best-selling novella of the same name, the movie Coraline is a comparatively watered down and juvenile account of the story of Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning), your typical recently-relocated and mildly-spoilt middle class girl. Her mother (Teri Hatcher) and father (John Hodgman) are a bit preoccupied with an important business project and much to Coraline's dissatisfaction, they ask her to entertain herself. The young protagonist explores the grounds of her new home and meets the other tenants of Pink Palace Apartments. Living downstairs are Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Forcible (Dawn French), two aging former actresses who have an impressive collection of Scottie dogs. Upstairs, a seemingly insane man named Mr. Bobinski (Ian McShane) tells Coraline he's training his circus mice to play music. Much to Coraline's displeasure, Wybie (voiced by Robert Bailey Jr. and a character unique to the movie), the well-meaning but obnoxious grandson of the land lady seems to want to be her friend. Finally, there is a mysterious locked door that reveals a parallel reality. Here, another set of parents and neighbours, each fitted with buttons for eyes, dwell and cater to Coraline's every whim. The gravy train comes to an abrupt stop when the "other mother'' asks to sew buttons onto Coraline's eyes and it becomes apparent that she's some sort of psycho-witch-spider hybrid with a twisted maternal complex.
Selick's adapted dialogue is short and cheap, advancing the scenes just far enough to get another sequence of juicy 3D effects in. In addition, Selick's addition of Wybie's character was an unnatural and haphazard attempt at thinning out the sections of the novella's original plot where Coraline talks to herself. Selick's inability to create an affective dialogue has sold the highly-talented cast short. While all of the characters were expertly delivered, Hatcher's performance as both the mother and other mother stands out as particularly noteworthy. Hatcher skilfully conveys both the loving-yet-harried attitude of the mother and the things-are-not-as-perfect-as-they-appear vibe of the other mother.
What makes Coraline particularly disappointing is that Selick is a grizzled veteran in stop motion and more than capable of creating a story adaptation that has both visually interesting design elements and engaging dialogue. For example, James and the Giant Peach (1996) was not only a box office hit, but a critically-acclaimed adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic.
While Coraline will undoubtably entertain young audiences and the Tim-Burton-fanatic niche, the uninspired adaptation will not live up to the excitement surrounding it and will go down as a disappointingly-gimmicky 3D film.