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.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
As with the previous 2D release, Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings this 3D Blu-ray version in a 2-disc package. The first is a Region Free, BD50 disc with both versions of the movie on the same disc — meaning that it's playable on a standard 2D player — while the second is a standard def DVD copy of the film plus Digital Copy. Both are housed on opposing panels in a blue keepcase that comes with a holographic slipcover. There are no previews at startup, and viewers are greeted by the usual menu options, either in 3D or 2D, depending on the television/player setup.
Almost two years since 'Coraline' first appeared in high definition, Universal brings the highly-imaginative stop-motion film to the 3D realm. The results are terrific though not quite the knockout experience I expected and not without some minor issues along the way. On the other hand, the majority of the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode's runtime is strong and a great treat for the eyes.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture arrives with pitch-perfect contrast levels, providing wonderful clarity and visibility of things in the distance as well as in close-ups. The finest details are stunningly consistent and distinctly sharp. Textures in various objects are remarkable and incredibly lifelike, which seem to jump out of the screen in many scenes. From individual threads in articles of clothing to separate strands of hair atop each character, everything is crystal clear and superbly detailed. Colors possess an extraordinary pop and energy in spite of the darkened lenses of the shutter glasses. 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. Blacks are inky and profound with excellent delineation in the darkest shadows.
The biggest concern worth mentioning is with the 3D effect itself. Simply put, there's just not a whole lot going on to make this presentation standout. At least, not to the extent we've seen with 'A Christmas Carol' and 'Resident Evil: Afterlife.' Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of depth to be seen in the image, with some scenes performing much better than others. But overall, it often feels like the same 2D high-def picture as before with a few gimmick shots thrown in for good measure. Some of the best moments are when Coraline enters the little door and crawls through the colorful tube into Other Mother's world. Also, the last half-hour of the movie as that world is slowly dissolving away is when the Blu-ray really shines in terms of three-dimensional depth.
Another thing: several instances of ghosting. While it's kept to a minimum, along with some severe motion blur, there are some sequences when it's distractingly noticeable. This is most apparent when Coraline first walks through the garden in Other Mother's house as well as the moon.
Despite these few drawbacks, 'Coraline 3D' is still a fantastic presentation sure to make many fans and 3D enthusiasts happy with the picture quality.
The high-rez track is identical to the previous Blu-ray release, so the same sentiments of that presentation remain.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack arrives 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 the great 3D 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.
Porting over the same set of bonus features from previous releases, the offering remains of entertaining interest for adults and animation lovers.
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 3D Blu-ray edition arrives with great picture quality, despite a few minor drawbacks in the presentation. The high-rez audio remains the same awesome experience as before for an animated feature, and the supplemental package mirrors its predecessor with only the U-Control and My Scenes being sacrificed. Only those willing to make the jump into the 3D realm will want to add this to their collection, while owners of the previous 2D version will be satisfied with their original purchase.
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.