The book is macabre kid-lit by a cult author. The director is an animator whose ghoulishly giddy feature debut, The Nightmare Before Christmas, is worshipped among shopping-mall misfits. Surely, the notion of pairing Neil Gaiman’s Coraline with stop-motion maverick Henry Selick was an inspired one – a perfect peanut-butter-and-jelly combo for goth teens. So why does this adaptation feel so frustratingly DOA?
The movie sticks to the story’s ideology of fairy-tale female empowerment, in which a neglected girl named Coraline (Fanning) goes through the looking glass – or rather, a secret door that opens into a parallel universe. Her busybody mother (Hatcher) and perpetually distracted father (Hodgman) now lavish their daughter with attention; the eccentric neighbors (voiced by witty Brits Ian McShane, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French) have morphed into agile circus performers. It all seems dreamy, except for one disturbing detail – everyone has buttons sewn onto their eyes. And if Coraline wants to stay in this alleged paradise, she’ll have to get her own painful, permanent surgery.
These are the types of creepy crawly Freudian fantasies that cry out for Selick’s jerky stop-motion touch and skewed sensibility, and if the filmmaker could nail Roald Dahl’s work (as in James and the Giant Peach), Gaiman’s curdled whimsy should have been a breeze. Yet Coraline constantly feels several beats off, and no amount of gimmicky ‘Real 3D’ (as opposed to the fake stuff we’ve been enduring for years?) can compensate for it.
The dark delights of the book show up in scattered spurts, but what should be a gleefully perverse alternative to saccharine young-adult entertainment is reduced to a mere puppet show.