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JACKI LYDEN, Host:

Every animator in Hollywood, it seems, plays with computers these days, but director Henry Selick does so much more. He specializes in stop-motion animation, an old-school method that's been around since the dawn of film. His animators manipulate tiny objects frame by frame to create the illusion that they're moving. Selick made "The Nightmare Before Christmas" that way. And our critic, Bob Mondello, says that in Selick's new movie, "Coraline," he's brought a whole new dimension to stop-motion.

BOB MONDELLO: When her family moves to a big, old, country house, 11-year-old Coraline Jones is less than thrilled. In fact, she's sort of bored.

(Soundbite of "Coraline")

Ms. DAKOTA FANNING (As Coraline Jones): Can I go out? I think it's perfect weather for gardening.

Ms. TERRY HATCHER (As Mother): No, Coraline. Rain makes mud, mud makes a mess.

Ms FANNING: (As Caroline Jones) Mom, I want stuff growing when my friends come to visit. Isn't that why we moved here?...

Ms. HATCHER: (As Mother) Something like that.

Ms. FANNING: (As Coraline Jones) I can't believe it. You and dad get paid to write about plants, and you hate dirt.

Ms. HATCHER: (As Mother) Coraline, I don't have time for you right now and you still have unpacking to do. Lots of unpacking.

Ms. FANNING: (As Coraline Jones) That sounds exciting!

MONDELLO: Instead, she explores and finds a little trap door to a tunnel that seems to lead to the same room it starts in, which is a little weird. But what's even weirder...

(Soundbite of movie "Coraline")

Ms. DAKOTA FANNING: (As Coraline Jones) Mom, what are you doing here in the middle of the night?

Ms. TERRY HATCHER: (As Mother) You're just in time for supper, dear.

MONDELLO: When she turns, Coraline sees her eyes.

(Soundbite of movie "Coraline")

Ms. DAKOTA FANNING: (As Coraline Jones) You're not my mother. My mother doesn't have buttons.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TERRY HATCHER: (As Mother) Do you like them? I'm your other mother, silly.

MONDELLO: Except for the creepy button eyes, which Coraline's other mother think she should sew on, too, this side of the trap door is pretty cool. It's brighter, happier, more fun. But when Coraline gets what she thinks she's been wanting - more attention, more engagement, more emotion - it's not quite the joyfest she was expecting. Too possessive.

(Soundbite of movie "Coraline")

Ms. DAKOTA FANNING: (As Coraline Jones) I want you to let me go.

MONDELLO: Can button-eyes glare?

(Soundbite of movie "Coraline")

Ms. TERRY HATCHER: (As Mother) Is that any way to talk to your mother?

Ms FANNING: (As Caroline Jones) You aren't my mother.

Ms. HATCHER: (As Mother) Apologize at once, Coraline.

Ms FANNING: (As Coraline Jones) No.

MONDELLO: In children's stories, the grass often seems greener on the other side and then turns out not to be. Think Alice popping down her rabbit hole, or Dorothy soaring over the rainbow, or the Pevensie kids leaping through that wardrobe to Narnia. Novelist Neil Gauman had something similar in mind for Coraline, who's forever plunging into things, and director Henry Selick delights in making those plunges physical. The movie's stop-motion work is plenty impressive in 2-D, which is how it's being shown in about half its theaters. But this is the first stop-motion film to be actually conceived in 3-D, so it's worth finding a theater playing it that way and getting the full effect as Selick pulls the camera back into corners to make rooms loom larger and deeper and, on the far side of that trap door, scarier. He'll peer up from below at a spinning chandelier dispensing mango milkshakes, and down from on high at scurrying bugs and mice, using wide-angled camera work with a sort of video-gamey feel - which you'd think would seem crazily artificial. But it doesn't because Selick's placed his real faith not in the gimmickry that "Coraline's" audiences will think they've shown up for, but in the stronger virtues that they'd likely view as old-fashioned - character, and story, and handmade figures, handmade milkshakes, handmade blades of grass, each one moving utterly persuasively as he and his animators tweak it frame by frame. I'm Bob Mondello.

LYDEN: You can hear director Henry Selick talk with NPR's Neda Ulaby about the making of "Coraline" at npr.org.

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