Dir: Henry Selick

Rating: 3.5

Focus Features

100 Minutes

Though it came out 16 years ago, The Nightmare Before Christmas maintains a fervent cult following. Jack Skellington is an ubiquitous figure in pop culture and some of the film’s tunes are now unofficial Halloween anthems on par with “Let it Snow” and “Jingle Bells.” Unfortunately, director Henry Selick’s follow-ups (James and the Giant Peach and Monkeybone) could not hope to replicate that zealous love of his tale of the Pumpkin King.

That cold streak will almost definitely come to an end with the release of Coraline, an animated thrill ride based on Neil Gaiman’s children novel and exhibited in exhilarating 3D. Alternating between comedy and horror, the film’s title character (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a blue-haired pre-teen who has just moved with her family to a rural guesthouse in perpetually gloomy Oregon. Both of her parents, writers for a garden manual, pay so little attention to Coraline that they rival Antoine Doinel’s parents in The 400 Blows as the nadir of neglect. Lonely and miserable, Coraline finds a magic portal in her house to transport her to another dimension, inhabited by stand-ins for her parents. But in this land where magical mice and snapdragons live and all of Coraline’s wishes come true, all of the humans have buttons instead of eyes. Creepy, right?

Though there are no songs that will lodge Coraline into the public consciousness like those from Nightmare, there is no denying that some of the images are fantastic. In the alternate reality, flowers bloom, magical performances are put on by aging divas and a Russian acrobat.

One of the most interesting aspects of this new world is all of the fantasy is based, in some part, on the grim and depressing reality of the gloomy “real” world. But it does not take long for Coraline to learn of her “Other Mother’s” diabolical plans and it is then that film turns into a fright fest of Freddy Krueger hands and flying, vampiric Scottish terriers. But, Coraline is not alone in her fight as a “creepy” neighbor boy called Wybie and a feral black cat are on-hand to add their support.

Let’s face it, the real star here is the 3D and Selick makes full advantage of advances in the technology. Fingers and needles jump from the screen and the alternate world hypnotized and enchanted me just as much as it did Coraline when first revealed. Unfortunately, the 3D cannot make up for the film’s shortcomings. Too many scenes in the second half feel like video game vignettes of simulated peril as Coraline searches for the missing eyes of other abducted children. Then again, those vampire dogs are creepy.

Only time will tell if Coraline joins Jack Skellington in notoriety, but while 3D technology enhanced a crap film like Beowulf, here it bolsters one that is already pretty damned good.

by David Harris

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