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'Coraline' On DVD: Sophisticated, Arty And Seriously Creepy

Coraline, of the movie of the same name

Coraline: In the new DVD release, 3D technology works right at home. LAIKA Inc./Focus Features hide caption

toggle caption LAIKA Inc./Focus Features

New to DVD this week in a unique 2-disc, 3D package, Coraline is an old-school stop-motion animated feature from director Henry Selick and writer Neil Gaiman. It also marks a historical first in the retail market, so far as I know: Guaranteed nightmares in a shrink-wrapped DVD case for $19.99.

Well, at least that was my experience. I'll be frank: This movie freaked me directly out. Coraline is as close to a dreamlike experience as you can get, with animation, music and story all moving to strange subconscious rhythms. It doesn't feel like a kids' movie — it feels like a fairy tale. Not the sanitized modern fairy tales, mind you — the older original tales, where ghosts steal your breath and witches eat children.

The DVD, the 3D, and whether this fairy tale is suitable for kids, after the jump...

The gist: 11-year-old Coraline Jones, voiced by Dakota Fanning, is a typical Neil Gaiman heroine — smart, brave, tenacious and slightly punk rock. Exploring the creepy old house her family has moved into, Coraline discovers a portal to a parallel world ruled by a maternal doppelganger called the Other Mother.

In fact, everything in Coraline's waking world is mirrored and distorted — neighbors, gardens, toys. Only the cat seems able to straddle these two realms in one incarnation. Good thing, too, as you'll see. Another excellent example of why I am a cat person.

Things get spooky fast, and you're better off going into this without too much advance information on the plot. In terms of animation, Coraline is as artful in its analog approach as Pixar's triumphs are in their cutting-edge digital techniques. And that's saying something. The DVD package includes the 3D version of the film (along with four pairs of 3D glasses) and plenty of behind-the-curtain extras.

I'm underwhelmed by 3D generally, but here it has a very specific effect. Stop-motion animation, which is the actual photographing of three-dimensional models, has an inherent feel of substance and authenticity. It feels real in a way that even the most exacting CGI can't match.

The 3D effect with Coraline is rather subtle. Stuff doesn't fly out of the TV at you. Rather, the figures pop in a way that enhances the dimensionality of the characters, and the very technique of stop-motion animation.

Gaiman is the master of this kind of thing. A student of world mythology, he tells stories about stories — about myths and fables, dreams and archetypes. He effortlessly appropriates elements from a dozen traditions, then reassembles them into modern fairy tales that Karl Jung would find compelling.

Coraline is one of the richest DVD experiences of the year, highly recommended so long as you don't mind subsequently vivid dreams.

Which reminds me — a note for parents: Coraline is rated PG, but I'd be careful about this one with more sensitive kids. It's got some seriously spooky imagery, and several very heavy scenes of Other Mother and Other Father being all — hmm, what's the term? Oh, yeah —utterly terrifying. Discretion is most definitely advised.



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