Coraline is a stunning work of beautiful stop-motion (not to be confused with claymation) combined with glossy digital effects. As a result, visuals are fresh and production design is unique. Also like Nightmare Before Christmas, this film delivers entertainment for the kids, while simultaneously delving into some very, very dark territory for us adults.
The story isn’t nearly as original here- the tale of a child escaping her lonely existence to enter a fantasy world is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia (to name a few), but the way in which it’s told both visually and tonally keeps things original and fresh enough to forgive that relatively major shortcoming.
The titular heroine Coraline, who sports a beautiful weave of electric blue hair, just because, is voiced with glee and attitude by Dakota Fanning, a girl whose talent spectrum seemingly knows no bounds. Teri Hatcher, Ian McShane, and that dorky PC guy from the Mac commercials round out an effective voice cast, highlighted by David Keith as an extremely smooth and intelligent and black cat.
Using Neil Gaiman’s book as a backbone, Selick does a fantastic job creating and then plunging us into the very unique world of the film. Yes, it’s supposed to be the real world, a VW Beetle tells us that, but Selick is just too creative and devious to keep things grounded for very long. Coraline’s upstairs neighbor is stick-thin and blue-skinned for example, and, obviously, once Coraline discovers the “other world”, nearly all plausibility goes straight out the window, as it should in a film like this.
Like Coraline herself, the soundtrack is youthful and adventurous, and the film thankfully (for me at least) stays away from going the musical route, only boasting a few small song-and-dance numbers. I found myself humming along to a few of the songs days after viewing.
As stated before, I do wish the story would have been a bit more original, and that Coraline’s real parental units a bit more consistent in their behavior. They veered often between negligent and responsible, and while this is probably a more realistic version of parenting (which I generally appreciate), this film didn’t need much realism to pull me in. It's just that cool.
The DVD comes with four pairs of 3-D glasses, and while they certainly take some time to get used to (and desaturate the film's color palette), I’d still recommend their use to really immerse you into the eerily beautiful landscapes the animators have painstakingly created.
The Making of Coraline (35:53) - This is one behind-the-scenes featurette I was extremely interested to check out, and while it may not be finest making of I’ve ever seen, this thing didn’t disappoint.
A multi-part documentary covering nearly everything you’d want to know about the film, without ever getting too technical. Voice recording sessions, costume and set design, puppet mechanics, special FX, and of course, the animation process are all covered, though not in extreme detail. It’s a light, colorful feature that never really gets boring and is frequently fascinating. Man I’d never have the patience to do what these guys do. Brutal, tedious, painstakingly complex and particular, but ultimately rewarding no doubt.
Voicing the Characters (10:46) - A featurette showing the actors doing their voice work, with director Selick and others discussing the motivations behind each of the characters etc. It’s fun seeing the actors recording their voices (especially Keith David) but it gets old kinda fast.
Creepy Coraline (5:03) - Talks about the critters and dark elements of the film. Some interesting bits, but I don’t know why we need to see the storyline rehashed again by the cast and crew, not like the film was too complex to understand. The cast interviews really add nothing. Skip it, unless you want to see some cool, huge dead bugs.
Deleted Scenes (8:37) - Interwoven with some truly bizarrely-edited interviews with Henry Selick, we get a few quirky deleted and extended scenes and little snippets, none of which add anything crucial to the story. Still, like everything else in this flick, they are beautiful to behold and very fun to watch.
The disc makes full use of Blu-Ray capabilities, with a "U-Control" app that includes Picture-in-Picture features that let you compare animatics and voice-recording sessions while the scenes are happening in the film.
Finally, you get a 'second disc', which is a Digital Copy so you can watch this baby every time you feel like escaping to the other world.