Coraline

Coraline

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

When you were a child, did you ever feel frustrated by the way your parents treated you? Did you dream of a better life? Coraline does. It's been especially tough for her since the move to the new apartment (whose owner, she's told, doesn't want children staying there); her parents are busy all the time working on their gardening catalogue, her father cooks awful food, and the neighbours are patently crazy.

So when she finds a secret door which leads to a parallel world, she doesn't hesitate to go through it. On the other side, everything is much like home, but subtly different. The woman who introduces herself as her Other Mother cooks wonderful food, there's a magnificent garden to play in and a circus and theatre to visit. Just one thing makes Coraline nervous. Everybody has buttons for eyes. And sooner or later, of course, they'll want to replace hers...

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Perfectly capturing the eerie atmosphere of Neil Gaiman's much-loved story, Coraline is strongly reminiscent of Tim Burton's Gothic fairytales and the mythic chapters of Pan's Labyrinth, but more than anything it comes across like John Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci rewritten for kids - with all the creepiness that implies. Bold yet fragile and naive, Coraline is a heroine any child will be able to identify with. She's beautifully played by Dakota Fanning, who demonstrates here that she can turn in as impressive a stylised performance as a naturalistic one.

There are plenty of other quirky characters, and fans of French and Saunders will love their appearance as ageing music hall stars, but it's Fanning's film. In focusing so strongly on one character, it has that narrowness of vision appropriate to childhood, which means that even adult viewers, who can guess something of what's coming next, will find themselves on the edge of their seats.

Younger viewers may well find this a bit overwhelming in places. There are some really disturbing scenes yet, at the same time, nothing age-inappropriate, and it's the sort of journey that should leave them feeling more confident at the end. Just make sure you're ready to talk it through with them.

Though it doesn't make especially good use of its 3D effects for most of its length, there are moments in this film that will make you gasp in wonder. What's more, the interaction of CGI animation and puppetry is perfect for creating a world where things always seem just a little bit off, not quite right. The music contributes well to this, never becoming too intrusive. Well-designed settings keep our focus in the right place whilst presenting us with details which, again, threaten our comfort zones.

Superbly edited and paced just right, Coraline will keep you glued to the screen until the end. Gaiman fans will not be disappointed. This is destined to become a classic of children's cinema, though it may also find a place in children's nightmares.

Reviewed on: 05 May 2009
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A lonely girl discovers a fantastic hidden world, but all is not as it seems.
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Director: Henry Selick

Writer: Henry Selick, based on the book by Neil Gaiman.

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, John Hodgman, Robert Bailey Jr., Ian McShane

Year: 2009

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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