In the tradition of the Brothers Grimm and the stop-motion animation style of my childhood, 'Coraline' is a much more serious film than the trailers would have us believe. There's no way around this other than to write that the film is a children's tale not really meant for children. Teetering between fantasy and horror, the nightmare-inducing puppetry is only half of the scare factor. The other half, and arguably its best feature, is a story that is actually creepy and frightening - something that's sadly missing from modern horror in general. Henry Selick, the director of 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' brings life to Neil Gaiman's award-winning novella, with a stunning visual mastery that somehow makes all the grotesque imagery rather attractive and captivating.
Feeling bored and neglected, Coraline (Dakota Fanning) decides to explore her new apartment while her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) continue in their time-consuming work. Walking the grounds, she meets the odd Wybie (Robert Bailey, Jr.), the two eccentric downstairs neighbors (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French), and the Russian gymnast who lives upstairs (Ian McShane). Back inside the house, she discovers a mysterious secret door that leads to a parallel universe much like her own. Only there, everyone at the Pink Palace Apartments lives to endlessly provide and entertain her. But soon, the black buttons, which serve as their eyes in this world, give way to more sinister intentions. With the help of a talking black cat (Keith David), Coraline must defeat the grasps of this "other world" and get back home.
There are no surprises or twists in the plot (it's all very familiar ground, in fact), but 'Coraline' is nonetheless a loving tribute to the art of filmmaking itself. We're not watching the story as much as musing and gawking at the beautiful artistry that went into blending the charming and delightful with the creepy and frightful. There is such a great amount of attention placed on the details that it becomes almost trance-like, and it all works to enhance the narrative. We don't need anyone to explain that Coraline's parents are busy. They just are. We learn more about the downstairs women by looking at pictures and their collection of taxidermied Scottish Terriers. And watching the world of her Other Mother change appearance is scarier than requiring an explanation for her existence.
Again, this may be more than what younger viewers can handle, despite giving the impression of being a children's movie. All the same, the film does arrive with the unsurprising and inevitable moral conclusion typical of the genre. And this is not so much a hindrance as it is expected five minutes into the movie. No matter, 'Coraline' knows how to play its cards right and lives up to that cautionary proverb we grew up hearing from parents and now repeat to our own children: "Be careful what you wish for." With an animation style that's both adventurous and strange, Selick's newest work of art is very much a modern-day fairy tale and one which will only grow in appreciation with time. It's fanciful, imaginative, and contemplative. But it's also weird, eccentric and even freakish. A terrific mix for a fun film.
Not since 'A Nightmare Before Christmas' has an animated film been so visually captivating. But rather than repeating the success of its predecessor, Selick's 'Coraline' gives audiences a darker undertone, where wish-fulfillment suddenly turn into true a nightmare. It's a beautifully immersive experience about a young girl learning to be clever, resourceful, and mature about her outlook on life. Only, parents, be sure that the little tykes can handle some of the film's more disturbing aspects.
Debuting onto Blu-ray is a 1080p/VC-1 transfer (1.85:1) of 'Coraline' that's absolutely jaw-dropping and gorgeous. It's a flawless presentation that will amaze audiences and one that will stand toe-to-toe with any Pixar title available. The stunningly consistent three-dimensional video is awash with a fine veneer of grain, providing the image with a beautiful and appreciably filmic quality.
The finest details are remarkable and distinctly sharp, with texture in various objects possessing an incredible lifelike refinement. From individual threads in any article of clothing to separate strands of hair atop each character, everything is crystal clear. A couple of choice scenes using diffusers can't even take away from the superb quality of this picture. Colors are equally extraordinary and a feast for the eyes. Whether we're in the drab and drained real world or the vibrantly exciting universe of Other Mother's house, the diverse palette on display is vividly saturated and accurate. Black levels are inky and profound with strong delineation of the smallest objects in the darkest shadows. The spotless video presentation provides wonderful clarity and visibility of things in the distance as well as in close-ups, making this Blu-ray edition of 'Coraline' pure reference quality.
Also included on the same disc is the 3D version of the film. Unfortunately, the anaglyphic presentation doesn't translate well into high definition, despite 'Coraline' being the first stop-motion picture to be filmed for that purpose. Colors lose some of their vividness, ghosting is distractingly frequent, and the image mentioned above lacks much of its sharpness. At the end of the day, it's nothing more than a gimmick for those curious to see a real 3D picture. Those experiencing the film for the first time should watch it in 2D before venturing into the third dimension. It's there merely to offer another means of enjoying the wonderful world of 'Coraline' . . . for your second viewing.
All great things come in pairs, as they would say, and the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on this Blu-ray delivers on that promise. Arriving with resounding clarity, precision, and depth, the sound mix is impressive as it reaches the higher pitches without a loss in detail and an active surround presence that is at a near constant. The front soundstage is expansive and evenly balanced with crystalline dialogue reproduction and wonderful transparency. Atmospheric effects and non-directional cues are sharp and fluid, enveloping the listener convincingly. Interior scenes exhibit terrific spaciousness and acoustics, generating an amazing environment that's eerily authentic. The original score by Bruno Coulais and They Might Be Giants is warm and inviting, using the entire system to draw the audience into this fantastical world. Low bass is richly polish and responsive, adding a palpable realism to each scene and musical number.
Accompanying a superb picture quality of 'Coraline', this lossless track is simply amazing, offering audiences a terrific and immersive aural experience that matches perfectly the fantastical elements of the film.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment unleashes 'Coraline' in a 2-Disc Collector's Edition, which houses both 2D and 3D versions of the animated film, four pairs of 3D glasses, and an additional DVD. The supplemental package is not very extensive, but provides further entertainment that may interest adults more than children. Bonus features are all presented in high definition and includes some material exclusive to the Blu-ray.
Taking audiences into a world where wishes become nightmares, 'Coraline' is the newest animated film from visionary director Henry Selick. Adapted from the novella by imaginative author Neil Gaiman, the film is a splendid and astounding visual delight with a narrative that's genuinely - and appreciably - terrifying, one that may not work well with younger viewers. The Blu-ray edition arrives with a reference level picture quality and an audio presentation to match. The supplemental package is extensive with exclusive material to owners of Blu-ray players, making this a must-own purchase for fans of the fantastical and bizarre. For everyone else, the disc comes highly recommended.
All disc reviews at High-Def DVD Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.
Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.