It’s been a while since a film like Coraline has made it to theaters.  Since the attention of Hollywood is focused mainly on the upcoming Academy Awards, the months of January and February are usually looked down upon as dumping grounds for less than stellar films.  Coraline, on the other hand, effectively breaks the mold. 

Based on a novella by Neil Gaiman (hands down, the best writer working in the fantasy genre today) and directed by stop motion animation genius Henry Selick, Coraline tells the tale of a little girl who, after moving into a new house, discovers a world where everything is the same… but also a little different and, strangely, more enticing.

When I saw the first production stills released this time last year, I knew I would love the film.  And I did.  Very much.  To be honest, it was the 3D factor that worried me.  I am not directly opposed to the rapidly growing trend of seeing 3D in feature films… I just dread the day in which studios release films based solely on the use of 3D.  Much like special visual effects, 3D does not necessarily make a great film. 

I didn’t see The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D, nor did I see Bolt.  However, after learning that Selick and his crew made Coraline to co-exist within the 3D world, I was more than willing to watch the film the way in which the filmmakers intended.  And I wasn’t disappointed. 

Not necessarily the gimmick I thought it would be, the 3D in Coraline created a better sense of atmosphere; it immersed the audience into Coraline’s world and allowed us to truly share in her wonder, awe and fear.  While admittedly jarring at first, after about ten minutes, I completely forgot that the film was in 3D, because I was so enthralled by the unique story that Gaiman and Selick were bringing to life. 

There are still plenty of aspects of Coraline that I am mulling over.  It is a much more mature and intelligent picture than many are giving it credit for.  What I can say, is that it has been a long time since I have seen a “children’s” film that didn’t talk down to the audience.  The film walks a very thin line that divides children’s fable from horror tale and for that I admire the work of the filmmakers even more.

The animation was stupendous (no surprise there), with the perfect mixture of a colorless and mundane real life, juxtaposed with a vibrant and eye-popping Other World, filled with some of the most interesting and overwhelming characters I’ve seen in a long time.  The art direction was spot on, another fixture of Selick’s filmography.  The voice work was what surprised me the most, with Teri Hatcher completely catching me off guard as Coraline’s mother and Other Mother respectively.  Dakota Fanning was… well, she was Dakota Fanning brought to animated life; take from that what you will.  Keith David, Ian McShane and Jennifer Saunders (from Absolutely Fabulous) were wonderful, with David’s Cat character being the most memorable and interesting amidst such a wide array of eclectic individuals. 

What truly impressed me about Coraline was that the filmmakers didn’t hesitate to scare the audience every now and then.  There were moments when even I, a hardened horror fan, was genuinely frightened.  Although, such a reaction can obviously be attributed to the fact that I was very much invested in the story.  And for any film, animated or otherwise, that is the highest accolade possible. 

See it, before the Jonas Brothers replace it in 3D cinemas.