Coraline, a horror film made for children, has some pretty heady stuff for adults too. When the best-selling book debuted in 2002, The New York Times dubbed it "one of the most truly frightening books ever written."
Director Henry Selick, who also helmed The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, wasn't afraid to transport the very things that made author Neil Gaiman's novella so intoxicatingly unique—a curious mix of dank morbidity and gossamer whimsy—into his big-screen adaptation via brilliant stop-motion 3-D animation.
Gaiman and Selick's work has more in common with Lewis Carroll and Maurice Sendak than with E.B. White or Beatrix Potter. Their world is like a parallel universe in which everything is familiar even as it is perverted by an eerie and, admittedly delicious, sense of the macabre. There is no denying that Coraline transports the viewer utterly and completely to another world, one full of petrifying monsters, incandescent beauty and inestimable bravery.
Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a precocious young girl who fancies herself an explorer. It's a good thing, too. She and her parents (Terry Hatcher and John Hodgman) have just moved into a new flat in an old house, and days of ceaseless Oregon rain has kept her pent up inside. Bored and feeling neglected by her busy parents, Coraline decides to explore her surroundings. Tucked into a corner of her living room, she discovers a small door plastered over with wallpaper. On the other side of the door is a long, luminescent tunnel, a heaving iridescent birth canal stretching out toward the horizon. While most kids would turn right back around, Coraline's curiosity gets the better of her.
At the other end of the tunnel is a room almost identical to the one she just left, only different. It is cleaner, warmer and better furnished. In fact, on the other side of the tunnel lies a perfect mirror image of her family's entire apartment. There she meets her "Other Mother" and "Other Father," who look just like her real parents—except that they have shiny black buttons where their eyes are supposed to be. Coraline is understandably disturbed by this at first, but it isn't long until she is completely overwhelmed by the hospitality shown her.
Coraline's "other" parents lavish her with attention, fill her belly with splendid food (her real mother never cooks), and let her play to her heart's content. Coraline is always the center of attention. Her every whim is catered to. These "other" parents invite her to stay in this idyllic world with them forever. There's just one catch: She'll need to replace her eyes with buttons.
Frightened, Coraline flees, only to discover her real parents have been kidnapped by her "Other Mother," who demands Coraline return to her forever. The young girl realizes that her only hope of saving her parents is to confront the "Other Mother," who has now taken on her true, monstrous shape. Mustering all her resourcefulness and courage, Coraline decides to risk both body and soul to save those she loves.