In the grand tradition of Alice, Dorothy, Milo, and the Pevensie children, Coraline enters a portal to a magical world that is both thrilling and terrifying, one that will both enchant her and demand her greatest resources of courage and integrity. And it will teach her that she does being given whatever she wants is not what she thought — that what she thinks she wants may not be what she wants after all.
Coraline (voice of Dakota Fanning) is bored and lonely. She and her parents have just moved into a new home and she does not know anyone. Her mother (voice of Teri Hatcher) and father (voice of John Hodgman, who plays the PC in the Mac commercials) are distracted and busy with work. While they type away furiously on their computers about gardening, they never actually go outside and plant anything. Coraline meets her neighbors, a pair of one-time performers (voices of Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French), a man training singing mice (voice of Ian McShane), and a boy her age named Wybie (voice of Robert Bailey Jr.), to whom she takes an immediate dislike.
She explores her surroundings and finds a mysterious locked door. Her mother tells her since the house was converted to make apartments it only opens onto a brick wall. But when she tries it herself, it opens into a tube-shaped corridor that leads to a place very like but also very unlike her own home and neighborhood. Everything is brighter and more colorful. The mother and father tell her that they are her Other parents. They sound just like her real parents and they look like them, too, except that they are utterly devoted and attentive and generous, and except for their eyes, which are sewn-on black buttons.
The Other world is enchanting for a while, with all kinds of diversions and performances. Many, like the Other parents, echo the places and characters from home. But then it begins to feel too synthetic and a little creepy. When the Other mother asks her sweetly to replace her eyes with buttons, Coraline goes home. But home is not the same. Something has happened and she will have to return to the Other place for an adventure that will require all of her courage, perseverance, and some growing up, too.
Coraline must follow the storyline and grow disenchanted with the Other place but we have the luxury of reveling in it. The creepier it gets, the more mesmerizing the visuals, ravishingly grotesque and dazzlingly inventive when the Other Mother suddenly elongates, her cheekbones sticking out like flying buttresses and her arms and legs getting spider-y. This is the first stereoscopic 3D film made in the painstakingly meticulous stop-motion system in which no more than 2-4 seconds can be completed each day because every frame requires as many as a thousand tiny adjustments. The 3D effect is all-encompassing and utterly entrancing as we feel as though we are inside the Other world as its uneasy false cheeriness slides away and we discover what is really going on. Like her parents, Coraline has been separated from authenticity of experience, in her case because she is a child. But the journey to the Other world shows her that she has what she needs to become more fully herself and to find a more vivid and vibrant life in the place she once thought of as drab and uninvolving.