Every kid wants new parents at one time or another; Coraline just happens to get her wish. But it turns out that maybe her seemingly wonderful new mother – her Other Mother – is actually something far more sinister and scary than she ever imagined. Adapted from comic legend Neil Gaiman’s children’s book, Henry Selick’s Coraline is a dark, spooky and beautiful fairy tale that’s guaranteed to engross and scare kids… and their parents.

Selick’s elegant stop motion animation is a perfect complement to Gaiman’s otherworldly fairy tale, and the film’s 3D component takes it to another level. Selick’s films have always felt 3D even when they weren’t, but his first feature shot for 3D (The Nightmare Before Christmas was made 3D after the fact) has a depth and a texture I haven’t seen in any other 3D film to date. Selick isn’t using the effect as a way of poking us in the eyes but rather to make the screen into a diorama, to make it seem like we could reach through and pick up Coraline or the Other Mother or the talking cat (played by Keith David! Surely this is worth your ticket price alone). And part of that feeling is knowing exactly what these characters feel like – the entire movie is delightfully tactile.

Selick does something really interesting with the visuals in this film: the basic set up is that Coraline and her parents (writers who pay more attention to their work than to her) move into a new house in a new town, and then she discovers a Being John Malkovichish tunnel that leads her to an alternate reality where her parents (who have buttons for eyes) are cool and pay attention to her and cook all her favorite foods. But Selick draws very little line between the two realities, visually. The Other world has some flourishes – the garden in that world is crazy – and Selick has built the Other world sets deeper, to add a feeling of Otherness in the 3D, but otherwise the similarities between the worlds is what makes it surprisingly creepy.

The whole film is surprisingly creepy. And dark. This isn’t one of those modern films that pulls punches to protect the kiddies in the audience; Selick and Gaiman know that kids can handle a lot more darkness than we give them credit for. In fact Coraline enters legitimately scary territory in the third act, and I can’t help but think that an entire generation of kids will have nightmares populated by Teri Hatcher’s Other Mother. Other characters may make appearances as well; Selick’s designs are evocative and imagination-stirring.

While Coraline heads into very scary territory in the third act it also begins to drag there. The story is deliberately paced from the beginning (I wonder how the younger kids will take to this) but by the time the climax comes Coraline travels across worlds one time too many and there’s a distinct feeling that ten minutes could have been jettisoned. But even with this bit of slowness, the film is a delight and a marvel. Gorgeous to look at, enchanting in concept and execution, Coraline is yet another Henry Selick miracle. The biggest problem with this guy’s career is that it’s so long between his marvelous, magical stop motion features.

A note: Coraline will be playing in 3D for only the next three weeks, at which point our nation’s 3D screens are turned over to some Jonas Brothers nonsense. Please do not wait to see this film; while the 3D effect is not used in a gimmicky way it feels integral to the experience. Make sure you see Coraline as it was intended to be seen.

8.5 out of 10

The other opinion: read Russ’ review!