The world of Coraline Jones (voice by Dakota Fanning) is set in a fantastical 3D environment with eccentric residents and stunning visuals. But even in this imaginative locale, life isn’t always perfect. Her parents (voices by Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman), both work-from-home writers, are under pressure from a looming deadline. Not only do they completely ignore their daughter, they get after her for interrupting their work. (It’s a scenario that is sure to make similarly employed parents squirm just a little.)
Forced to amuse herself in the sparsely furnished and dilapidated apartment, Coraline comes across a small locked door hidden behind a layer of wallpaper. Hounding her mother to unlock the entrance, they find only a bricked up wall. But when Coraline revisits the door on her own during the night, she discovers a magical tunnel that leads to another dimension.
There, she meets her “other” parents (also voiced by Hatcher and Hodgman) who are greatly improved copies of her real-life mother and father. In fact, everything on the other side of the tunnel is more colorful, tasty and inviting. Although Coraline is initially put off by the inhabitants’ button eyes, she can’t help but feel drawn to these grown-ups who’s only concern seems to be her amusement and happiness.
Even the neighbors who share the house—also enhanced duplicates of the ones back home—are more fun and engaging. The two amply endowed, aging actresses that live downstairs put on a show for Coraline and her friend Wybie (voiced by Robert Bailey Jr.), as does the circus performer upstairs. But before long, Coraline realizes all this doting comes with a price when her “other” mother demands that she sew on her own pair of button eyes.
However, the dark storyline about childhood fears becomes secondary to the special effects as the images become increasingly bizarre and frightening for young viewers. While trying to escape from the “other” world, Coraline is confronted by a man made of rats and chased by a spider-like appendage through a dark forest. The colorful animation may also be too graphic for some audience members when one of the elderly actresses appears on stage in an almost non-existent bikini bottom with her grossly-exaggerated bosom covered only by a couple of tiny pasties.
While some may enjoy a venture into this outlandish world, which is based on a book of the same name, the story’s moral is rather heavy handed. Coraline is completely overlooked by her preoccupied parents, yet she seems to be at fault for wishing for something better. Rather than consign themselves to Coraline’s unhappy fate, viewers with children will likely choose to leave the door locked on this dark and creepy universe.