Coraline : *** 1/4 (out of 4)
That was not what I was expecting.
Coraline is based on a children's book written by Neil Gaiman, the creator of /Sandman/ and one of my favorite authors. It was a creepy book, reminding its readers that fairy tales are meant to be scary. It was also a fairly quick read - 176 pages, according to Amazon, and I recall it just taking a couple of hours to read.
It came as somewhat of a surprise that the movie followed in the footsteps of the book so clearly, yet distinctly.
By way of example: the story. The details were different - bigger, really, since most of the imagery that the book spent its pages conveying was covered nicely by the visuals themselves. The movie adjusted things to be somewhat slower and more conventional than I recall the book being, with more payoffs mixed into the adjusted pacing. But though the script may have changed, the themes did not. The alienation, the childhood longing, the recognition of how we underestimate those around us - these themes all shone through just as strongly, and nothing felt out of place.
The visuals were gorgeous. The main visual image - the buttons - was played up slowly at first, and future reminders were more subtle than I would have expected. The backgrounds went nicely from realistic to fantastic as they needed to be. Every now and then, there was a touch of perfection - the dirty windshield, for instance, was absolutely perfect (and more so for being both unexpected and fairly irrelevant). And the closing scenes, as the world fell apart - that was glorious and breathtaking, in equal measures.
For all of my hyperbolic verbiage, it was not perfect. Most prominently, the movie felt slow in a few points, and ponderous - perhaps not really in a bad way, as my companions didn't see it the same way, but noticeable. And the 3D, while interesting and perhaps well-done, was still fairly superfluous.
Still, I recommend this movie in no uncertain terms. It is appropriate for children, though they may well (should be?) scared. It is certainly appropriate for older audiences, too, except perhaps those with a fear of spiders.
A few notes:
This was not The Nightmare Before Christmas again - and by that, I speak well of the movie. There was music, but it was not a musical; there was darkness, but this is not a goth icon movie. I doubt that this movie will hold up as well as Nightmare, though I think it is a better movie.
There was a They Might Be Giants song in it. Whoo!
Stay until the end of the credits; they show off a bit of the filming technique, and that was worth it.