This afternoon we went to see Coraline. I was lukewarm towards the book by Neil Gaiman (especially since I don’t care for Dave McKean’s artwork), but I’m happy to say that the film is terrific.

Briefly, Coraline Jones (voice of Dakota Fanning) and her parents move into an old, pink house with three apartments. Her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) are too busy working on their gardening catalog to spend time with her, and she’s not too impressed with the overeager neighbor boy Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.), especially when he gives her a doll he found which looks just like her.

Coraline discovers a passage to another world – a world that looks exactly like hers, except that it’s bright and colorful, and has parallels of all the people she knows. Her Other Mother and Other Father shower her with affection and she becomes disaffected with her real world, even though everyone in the other world have buttons instead of eyes. But of course the other world has a sinister secret and Coraline has to be both smart and quick to keep herself and her loved ones from being trapped in it.

Where to start with this film? The stop-motion animation (in 3D!) is terrific, even if it was aided by computer smoothing (I don’t know that it was, but who cares?). Bruno Coulais’ music is atmospheric and memorable, and the film would be rather different without it. The designs are wonderful, full of color and detail and creativity.

I remember the book as being inventive but drab and dreary. The film is anything but: Coraline is a vibrant character frustrated with her parents and with Wybie (but for different reasons), but enthusiastic and inventive when the opportunity (or necessity) presents itself. While her parents are perhaps a little too over-the-top in their inattentiveness, Wybie – a new character not from the book – is funny and quirky enough to fit into the world perfectly, while also being a bit of an anchor to the world outside the house. Other Mother and Other Father are both presented quite effectively, as is The Cat (Keith David), a sort of guide who pops up from time to time.

While the film still has a bit of the feeling that it was a trial just for the sake of a story, the addition of Wybie and his grandmother and their history with the house does give the story a sense of closure that I recall seemed to be missing from the book.

Coraline is the second film of a Neil Gaiman book that I liked better than the book (Stardust was the first). It makes me wonder what someone might be able to do with a film of one of the Gaiman books I really liked – like American Gods.

In any event, I highly recommend Coraline the film. It’s stylish, funny, suspenseful, and great to look at. Go see it.