Eric D. Snider


Movie Review


by Eric D. Snider

Grade: A-

Released: February 6, 2009


Directed by:


One of my dark secrets is that I don't care much for "The Nightmare Before Christmas," the Tim Burton-produced, Henry Selick-directed Halloween favorite. Technically, the film is a wonder, with stop-motion animation that never fails to impress. As far as its story and characters are concerned, though: meh.

So I do not immediately convulse with excitement at the news that Selick (who also made the delightful "James and the Giant Peach") has a new stop-motion production called "Coraline" in the works, and I swell with only a little bit of pride to know that it's being made here in Portland. All that matters is what's up there on the movie screen -- and man alive, "Coraline" is a brilliant, twisted marvel.

Based on Neil Gaiman's book and adapted by Selick, it is the story of a young girl named Coraline Jones (voice of Dakota Fanning) who has just moved with her parents, both nature writers, from Michigan to Ashland, Ore. Their new home is an isolated old house divided into three apartments, situated near the majestic forests and mountains of southern Oregon. Upstairs from the Joneses is Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane), a Russian acrobat; in the basement are retired actresses Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Forcible (Dawn French), both elderly spinsters who bring out bowls of inedible hard candy when visitors stop by.

With her mother (Teri Hatcher) and father (John Hodgman) both absentmindedly focused on their work, Coraline is left to roam the house and its surroundings, bored and almost without playmates. Her one new friend is Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.), the grandson of the apartment house's landlady, and an icky boy. (You know how boys are icky.) Wybie finds a doll in his attic that looks like a miniature version of Coraline, so he gives it to her -- and that's when things start to get weird.

Through a wallpapered-over little door in her apartment, Coraline finds a portal to a world that looks just like this one, except better. She has an Other Mother and Other Father there, replicates of her birth parents but with sewed-on button eyes and far more attentive, indulgent personalities. They are everything a kid could imagine her parents to be. The alternate versions of Mr. Bobinsky and the old ladies are much more fun, too. The world through the little door is perfect!

It may not surprise you to learn, knowing Gaiman and Selick as you do, that the scenario proves to be one of those "be careful what you wish for" things, with "Twilight Zone"-style irony and several macabre touches that made me, a grown man with a college degree, squirm in my seat with giddy creeped-outedness. Nothing is horrifying or gross; it's just ... off. Warped. Weird. FUN. There's a talking cat (voice of Keith David) that inhabits both realms, a piano that plays its player, grotesque circus performers, and all manner of dizzying, carnival-like delights. There is more imagination and invention on display here than in all the films of January put together, and it's the kind of Halloween-ish whimsy that kids and adults can enjoy together.

I would be remiss if I didn't also acknowledge the film's stunning visuals. It's being shown in 3D in some theaters -- it's the first stop-motion animated film to be shot that way -- and you would do well to experience it in all three dimensions. Selick's team used countless models, puppets, and miniatures to create the characters and their elaborate worlds, which come to life in astonishingly vivid detail. Stop-motion photography proves to be perfect for this story, as it gives everything a surreal, dreamlike quality that would be hard to achieve with live-action or even traditional animation. Fans of "Nightmare Before Christmas" can keep it -- "Coraline" is my new perennial favorite.

Grade: A-

Rated PG, scary images and general creepiness

1 hr., 40 min.

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This item has 33 comments

  1. KJ says:

    Now I can come clean--I did not care for "The Nightmare Before Christmas" either. There, I've said it. Thank you Eric, for freeing me!

  2. Chocolatestu says:

    I'm glad you gave this a good review. I've been wondering if I should want to see it or not. I read the book, which was bizarre and creepy and really good in its own way, but with Gaiman you always have to wonder if it would really make a good movie. "Stardust", for example, I loved (in fact I actually liked the movie more than the book). On the other hand, I would stay far away from a movie version of "American Gods". I had high hopes for "Coraline", so I'm glad it came out so well!

  3. Christina D says:

    I too have never liked The Nightmare Before Christmas. My husband considers this blasphemy, but I have just never really enjoyed it. Additionally and unrelated to my not liking NBC, I can never get past the Boogeyman part, I always have to turn it off there because it creeps me out too much.

    Anyway, I saw the trailer for Coraline when we saw Bolt in 3D and both Mr. D and I thought it looked really good. I'm glad to hear that it is! Hopefully we'll be able to see it. :) Unfortunately, I believe this means we will probably not be seeing the Thrillionares though. Sorry. :P

  4. Kaydria says:

    !!! I'm so excited to see this movie. I hope I'm not distracted and embittered because all the actors have American accents since I've only experienced Coraline through an audiobook read in Niel Gaiman's dulcet tones.

  5. Andrew D says:

    Awesome. I'll be seeing this in 3D for sure.

  6. Tom Haener says:

    I found yor review informative and enjoyable thanks so much. I will look for your reviews again.

  7. Phil Cardenas says:

    Thanks for the review, Eric. I was fascinated by the book (read it about 5 years ago) and always thought it would be a film. Such vivid imagery! Gaiman is truly an original voice and delightful for all ages. I didn't enjoy MirrorMask at all, but Stardust was great, so I'll definitely give Coraline a try.

  8. Jenn says:

    Saw this today in 3D & it was just amazing! I've never read the book, but I think I want to now. I am one of those who really liked "Nightmare", so I was looking forward to this one as well, and I'm glad that it didn't disappoint. I thought it was really dark & didn't think that the kids in the theater with us would get through it without crying, but they went through without a peep! I defintely recommend seeing it in the 3D if you can.

  9. Amy Guyer says:

    This movie IS good. But watch out for the gigantic 3D breasts in the circus act. My children and I were a little surprised by that.

  10. Chrystle says:

    I actually TAUGHT this book when I was an English teacher over in London, and my grade 7 students really enjoyed it. I'm glad the movie was really well done.

  11. Teri says:

    Thanks for the review, Eric. I've always liked Corpse Bride better than Nightmare, and I was very curious as to what you'd rate Coraline. I think I'll head out to see it now that you've given it your blessing. :)

  12. Hyrum says:

    My kids love Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride, so seeing this one is inevitable. Good to know it will be worth the $$.

    By the way, what is a "nature writer" ?

  13. Genevieve says:

    Coming from someone else who isn't a NBC lover, I appriciate your review of this. I'm sold. I'll even catch it in 3D.

  14. Brian says:

    Perhaps the reason this is better than Nightmare and Corpse is because of the lack of involvement in story from Tim Burton. Burton's stories are always superficial. Nightmare Before Christmas is about an oblivious skeleton doing oblivious things. Corpse Bride is about a stupid man doing stupid things. This is the only movie out of those three that has three-dimensional characters doing three-dimensional things, it's ironic that the film is being released in 3-D. Hyrum, a nature writer is someone who writes about nature.

  15. Christina D says:

    Saw this last Friday for Valentine's day with Mr. D. We REALLY enjoyed it, even though we didn't see it in 3D. After we came out we talked about it for like an hour, and we still talk about the parts we found creepy cool occasionally. We really want to go see it again, in 3D. We haven't seen any movies more than once in the theatre, but Coraline was so good I'd be happy to fork out another $8 each to go see it in 3D. (Mr. D really wants to)

    However, as Amy Guyer said above, there are some large old lady breasts that rather surprised us (grossed us out?) too. If I had had a child with me, I would have been probably a little upset about them. Otherwise, it was great! None of the kids in the theatre seemed too scared by it (no screaming at least), though my husband kept squeezing my hand because he was a little creeped out sometimes. :P

    I liked it far better than NBC, I must also add. :D

  16. Saffron Grass says:

    Yes, it needs mentioning that there is a scene in which two old ladies do some acrobatics. One is completely bare-chested with DDDD's and a few pasties. This is a very long scene, especially if you are with your children, which I was. I was completely surprised at this and thought it very inappropriate. Eric, I think you should mention this in your rating system as you normally do with such material. I wish I would have known beforehand so I could have sent my teenager to get some popcorn at just the right time.

  17. Eric D. Snider says:

    As always, I encourage those concerned about objectionable material to visit or for detailed accounts. I try to be useful in that department, but it's about 10th on my list of priorities when I'm writing a review.

  18. Turkey says:

    I'm glad to see you liked this. The only review snippets you see on TV are critics saying, "The best 3-D movie I've ever seen!" Which, frankly, isn't saying a whole lot considering all the 3-D movies that have ever existed don't amount to much. (Kinda like saying, "It's the best 'Friday the 13th' movie of all time!" Oh boy, hold me back!) And if that's the best you can say about the film, then I'm not excited to see it. So I'm glad I was wrong about this one.

  19. jlj says:

    I agree the pasties were a bit much....they certainly weren't anything near a D - even in multiples....we're talking the end of the alphabet.

    But the review really was right on. CREEPY, yes. Dazzling, yes. Just the right amount of weird for me and so interesting you didn't care that you knew the moral before it began. Plus, you can't fault Coraline as our strong and ingenious heroine...once she gets over her self. ;)

  20. Euphrasie says:

    I pretty much agree with everyone. Although I will note that my 6yo daughter (who watches action stuff with no problem) got scared about half way through, started crying, and just sat with her eyes closed for most of the second half. If I were a good mom, maybe I'd have just taken her out, but darn it...I wanted to see it!

  21. Scarlett says:

    I'm very sad about your feelings towards The Nightmare Before Christmas. I never cease to be amazed by that movie.

    As for Coraline, I am a gigantic Neil Gaiman fan, and I absolutely ADORED the movie, being as creepy as it is, and I'm glad that you felt the same way.

  22. dinogirl says:

    SPOILERS: Eric,I have to say that this is the most inappropiate kids movie ever since "The Simpsons." PG?!? Come on. With partial nudity, sexual innuendo, disturbing images that will give tots nightmares for weeks, use of religous exclamations, name-calling, and violence, this should be rated PG-13.There are some stuff in this movie that were missing or not from the book. Why is Mr. Bobinsky blue? First of all, he wasn't even called Mr. Bobinsky in the book.And in the behind the scenes of this movie on YouTube, Henry Selick or Neil Gaiman said that Wybourne or Wybie was added to the movie because Coraline wouldn't be talking to herself throughout the movie. But it didn't really work. I mean, the cat was there to help her. Wasn't that enough? It would've been cool if Wybie was with Coraline in the Other World to defeat the Other Mother. But he didn't 'cause he's a fraidy-cat. The Other Mother wasn't a spider in the book. Where the heck did they get that idea. I almost jumped out of my seat when I saw the Other Mother's final transformation. I couldn't tell if she was living person or a corpse. Now I want to talk about plot holes. How did the Coraline-like doll ended up in Wybie's house anyway in the beginning of the film? How did Coraline's real parents got caught in the snow globe? Did the buttons meant a symbol in the Other World? I never got an answer in the film, so if anybody knows, let me know. In the end of the movie, if the Other World's destroyed, why did the cat return there? Now the 3D effects. They failed to shoot the FIRST stop-motion film in 3D. I mean, barely anything popped out of the screen. 3D isn't the crystal-clear, makes-you-feel-like-you're-in-the-movie touch anymore. They're just tricking you into wasting $20.00 for snacks+$8.00 for tickets=$28 of expensive food, pointless nothingness and 4 extra dollars of glasses that just make the projection screen blurry. I said to myself,"Is it me or the glasses are not doing the effect?" Finally, my overall rating. To a 1 to 10 scale, I'll give it a 2/10 for amazing visuals, vivid animation, funny dialouge, but predictable plot, annoying Indian (I don't know what language) singing, actors that are acting like they're falling asleep (except Dakota Fanning), weak 3D effects, irritating characters, and a countless number of plot holes. Sorry to Coraline fans out there, but Henry Selick is trying to be Walt Disney, but failing to do so. We get it, OK? Little girl enters a tunnel to a different and strange world, escapes it, the end. I've heard the DVD is going to be in 3D also, but I'm so buying that version. As a matter a fact, I'm not buying it at all. Selick needs to learn to get a life instead of making movies that make kids crying as soon as the movie's over. But hey, there were kids in my show, and I never a yelp or whimper at all. I'm not saying you can't watch it with kids, this is my opinion. Where are classic movies like The Brave Little Toaster or The Lion King anymore. I truly miss them

  23. Eric D. Snider says:

    Eric,I have to say that this is the most inappropiate kids movie ever since "The Simpsons."

    LOL first at someone thinking "The Simpsons Movie" was a kids' movie.

    LOL second at the implication Eric had anything to do with either film's content.

    LOL third at the outrage (and surprise!) when a movie fails to exactly duplicate the book.

    LOL fourth at the suggestion that it's the movie's fault you spent $20 on snacks.

    What did I miss?

  24. Dinogirl says:

    By the way Eric, here's another duplicate failure of book-to-film. Coraline has brown hair in the book, but she has blue hair in the film. What in the name of macaroni and cheese?!? Before I submit, have you read my overall scale, and plot holes?

  25. David says:

    This is astounding. Are we really discounting a film because it's not completely faithful to its source material? Well, good prep for the next Harry Potter movie, I suppose. Get ready for the "Book's good/movie's bad" thing to come full throttle. Again.

  26. Jason says:

    The Brave Little Toaster and The Lion King are classic movies now? Said it isn't so.

  27. dinogirl says:

    What do you mean, Jason?

  28. dinogirl says:

    I think they will always be classics, and I am shocked and disappointed of what movies are becoming now, like this ridicolus movie.

  29. Amp says:

    I won't enter the "classic movie" debate, but I have to point out that the Lion King seems an odd choice to point to when complaining that a current film is too violent for children. Consider that Simba's dad is murdered by Simba's uncle (who then tries to kill him!). Not exactly violence-free.

  30. Carrie says:

    Dinogirl is lol crazy.

  31. dinogirl says:

    Fine, I'll leave Lion King out.

  32. dinogirl says:

    I didn't say children classics. Look at the comment carefully. Jeez!

  33. John Doe says:


    In the book, the other mother is compared to a spider several times. Make of that what you will.

    I enjoyed this movie, my dad thought it was creepy. And I prefer Nightmare B4 Christmas (as does my dad), but that's just me.

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