Henry Selick‘s Coraline (Focus Features, 2.6), a visually dazzling 3D animated children’s film, is about a young girl who feels bored and listless and neglected by her parents and longs, as many kids do, for a better, more lustrous life. She finds one in a magical fantasy realm that she one day disappears into, Being John Malkovich-style, by crawling through a trap door and then through a long psychedelic tunnel. (But with no mud.)
Sensually delightful and too good to be true at first, Coraline’s fantasy world eventually, of course, turns out to be nightmare. (It reminded me of “A Nice Place to Visit,” a Twilight Zone episode with Larry Blyden as a thief who gets shot and ostensibly goes to heaven — a place filled with riches, girls and endless good times. Which eventually drives him bonkers.) And then she’s trapped there, unable to return to the normal humdrum. And then it’s a mildly scary touch-and-go situation for 15 or 20 minutes.
Based on a respected 2003 children’s book by Neil Gaiman, Coraline is flawless from a technical standpoint. The stop-motion animation, which Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) is an obvious master of, is as good as it gets, and the 3D aspects only enhance. It’s first-rate family fare.
But by the standards of me, myself and I, Coraline felt too slow and deliberate. It runs about 95 minutes, give or take, but it would have played better at 70 or 75 minutes. The story is bit too simplistic — Coraline unhappy, finds fantasy realm, delighted with fantasy realm, concerned with fantasy realm, attempts to escape fantasy realm but can’t, finally does. I starting looking at my watch around the 80-minute mark. I was quietly moaning 10 minutes later.
The only thing that kept me going was the creepy notion of all fantasy-realm inhabitants having button eyes, which I took as an analogy for the blotto, disconnected, spaced-out condition of a typical drug user. (You can always tell if someone’s high by their peepers.) You could interpret the basic story, in fact, as a metaphor about a tweener kid falling prey to drug use. Lord knows it happens often enough in real-life suburbia.
The voicings by Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman and Ian McShane are well and good.