In this stop motion film, you have a marvel of imagination, hemmed in by a story that is all too predicable in spite of some wondrous flights of fancy.
A young girl from Michigan is uprooted to Oregon by her parents, who seek peace and quiet to write some kind of gardening book. Ignored by her parents, and resentful for the move, the young girl Coraline Jones (hmm, and how come no-one has mentioned the alliteration to Carolyn Jones who portrayed Morticia Adams???) is bored and yearns for a better life. Low and behold, while asleep one night, she is led to a door that opens upon an alternate reality where her mom is especially loving and attentive - or at least so it seems at first.
When she awakens, she is back in her dreary room, so one wonders, Is it just a dream? This is a great idea, but due to the surreal effect of the animation, I started to question; what is real to the surreal? For sure, the doppelganger doll with the button eyes doesn't look that much different from the artistic cartoon of the girl herself - which makes the effect much less jarring.
Going into the technical aspects of the film, the voice acting is fairly solid, though Dakota Fanning as Coraline sounds very out of sorts in places and though I love French and Saunders with a passion (think Ab Fab) I often had problems understanding what the heck they were saying (a problem I never had with Ab Fab, oddly enough). The stop motion is very fluid with a few jarring exceptions - just when you start to lose yourself in the film there's a scene that's just too herky jerky - bringing you out of your reverie and back into "?hey, I'm just watching a film".
And yet, there are moments of pure magic, especially concerning Mr. Bobinsky (voiced by my hero Ian McShane, who will forever be Al Swearington to me). The scene with the jumping mice is almost worth the price of admission by itself, and the operatic/vaudeville/ trapeze scene with French and Saunders, while superfluous, was still a lot of fun - it was almost as if the director asked the pair "ok, we're going to let you riff for awhile, what can you come up with".
There are inventive touches galore, and yet the motis operandi of the final third of the film is based on a hokey convention, and unfortunately the final coda is hackneyed at best, making you wonder, as with so many animated films, who the target audience is supposed to be ? once again we seem caught in the middle, between an adult and a children?s film; and once again, seeking the middle ground muddies up what by rights should have been a classic film. This is certainly a worthwhile view, but rests firmly in the good, but could have been great category.
For the record - I saw this in 2d, so can't comment about the 3d version.