screenplay by Henry Selick, based on the book by Neil Gaiman
directed by Henry Selick
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Best known for The Nightmare Before Christmas (although a lot of people still think that was directed by Tim Burton), Henry Selick returns to the realm of creepy stop-motion animation with an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's slim volume Coraline. Despite the addition of a character and an ending altered for, one suspects, purposes of padding, the book's sense of creepiness and agile grasp of the long blues of the pre-pubescent girl alone in a house with inattentive parents remain pristine. The picture's message retains the British-nanny scold of "be thankful for what you have," though Dakota Fanning's vocalization of the title character leans in and out of a Northwest American youbetcha. It suggests that of the many demons Coraline fights, the most treacherous is the grey beast Populism--the one that demands Teri Hatcher voice Mother (and Other Mother) and Ian McShane upstairs Russian circus performer neighbour Bobinsky. But credit Selick for in essence attempting a Charlie Kaufman film for children with Jan Svankmajer imagery--his invention almost making one forget that it would've worked better in an older, more mysterious, more fraught place than rain-swept Oregon. It is, after all, a picture that illustrates the horror of perfect domesticity in favour of perfect dysfunction: here, the threats of Stepford Wifery far outweigh the threats of a dual-income family, house poor and scrabbling to get by. Viewed as a movie about class, the three levels of Coraline's pink house--the top rented to Bolinsky and his dancing mice, the bottom to Spink & Forcible (Jennifer Saunders/Dawn French)--can be seen as some social stratification of which Coraline's Mother does not suffer well.