“Coraline”
At Showcase and Quality 16
Focus

Courtesy of Focus

3.5 out of 5 stars

Revered animated-film director Henry Selick has a new picture out. It’s not a classic. Selick’s new film, “Coraline,” is the story of Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning, “The Secret Life of Bees”) a girl who moves to a gloomy woodland apartment building with her remarkably negligent parents (Teri Hatcher of TV’s “Desperate Housewives” and John Hodgman, the bespectacled “PC” from Apple commercials). She stumbles upon a hidden door that leads to a parallel universe in which everything is the same, except more marvelous and fantastical.

In this world her parents are caring and devoted; her once-oddball neighbors are still pretty odd, though in an entertaining, vaudevillian sort of way; and the chatterbox neighborhood boy can no longer talk — his cat assumes the role of conversationalist. Oh, and everyone has buttons for eyes.

The film is an affirmation of Selick’s ability to create a world so extraordinary and bizarre that it should literally make viewers’ jaws go slack. With a résumé like Selick’s, perhaps that’s no surprise. His first feature film, 1993’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” is considered to be one of history’s most iconic holiday films — animated or otherwise. Three years later, he adapted Roald Dahl’s beloved “James and the Giant Peach.” Five years after that, however, he forayed into mixed animation and live-action with “Monkeybone,” a critically catastrophic box-office disappointment.

With “Coraline,” Selick returns to the medium with which he is most comfortable: stop-motion animation. He also uses a different technology: 3D animation, which has started to be considered by some as the newest cinematic innovation.

3D films are not new by any means. The industry made a push for it in the ’50s and then again in the ’70s, though the shtick didn’t hold up and 3D technology took its place in the ranks of pop-culture ephemera.

In “Coraline,” certain 3D aspects definitely enhance the film. At other times, however, these elements feel like cheap parlor tricks. What the film amounts to is an awkward amalgam of old and new innovations. This is particularly the case because of the admirable — though admittedly primitive — style of the animation. From an artistic standpoint, it’s important that filmmakers like Selick are making stop-motion features. That said, a film like “Coraline,” which employs the use of both stop-motion and 3D, is emblematic of the differences between traditional and modern animation and revelatory of the limitations of a film that uses both.

“Coraline” is a light and fun movie that is, more than anything, an interesting formal endeavor. There’s no question that it pales in comparison to “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James and the Giant Peach.” Whether it will be remembered and recalled in the same breath as those films depends on the success of new 3D technology. “Coraline” could just as easily be seen as either a significant step in the direction of film innovation or a well-meaning technological misstep.

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