We have all thought about what things would be like if our lives were different; while staring at our computer screens and daydreaming about a more exciting house, spouse or occupation, we almost click on those ads for a free Caribbean vacation. "Coraline" appeals to that desire in all of us to escape our dreary existence for a colorful wonderland full of excitement and adventure.
Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) has just moved to a new apartment away from her friends. Bored and neglected by her parents, she goes looking for an adventure and discovers a secret portal to an alternate world. The other world is creepily similar to her own, but much improved. In the new world, Coraline's parents don't ignore her, her neighbors don't bore her, and the neighborhood boy doesn't annoy her.
As fate would have it, things begin to unravel in this new world and Coraline must fight to save her mundane real life from the evil Other Mother (Teri Hatcher).
Based on the award-winning novel by Neil Gaiman, "Coraline" transforms beautifully on film with much help from director/former animator Henry Selick. With animation similar to Selick's other famous adaptation, "James and the Giant Peach," "Coraline" has the same magical realism. The score by Bruno Coulais adds the extra ingredient that gives the film a full sweeping fantasy feeling.
Unfortunately, the characters don't live up to the amazing animation. Coraline's odd cast of neighbors leans too much on visual spectacle and tends to lack dimension. Fanning's portrayal of Coraline often comes off as a whiny brat who deserves her unfortunate circumstances. The Other Mother, who becomes creepier throughout the film, turns out to be nothing worse than a bad bedtime story. The second half of the film plays like a video game leaving you looking for your controller to fast-forward through the frightening parts.
Despite the heavy marketing to children, the content of "Coraline" might be too scary; a child losing her parents and the vivid images of the button eyes might be too much for younger children. Similar to "Spirited Away," it might be wise to watch "Coraline" before taking your child to see it.
Like "Alice in Wonderland" or "The Wizard of Oz," in the end, Coraline finds that her own boring world is exciting enough. But for all of us entering the sweepstakes to win a free vacation or buying lottery tickets, the ending leaves us wishing for more. Can't the grass ever just be greener on the other side of the fence? Or is it just there to remind us how good we already have it?