Coraline, a stop-motion 3-D fantasia, is Alice in Wonderland without an Alice. The titular character is indeed a precocious girl who discovers a door within her new home that leads to an alternate universe where all her wishes come true. But Coraline is no Alice. Lacking that crucial component, the film becomes an exercise in stalled cuteness, and its zany imagination turns into twiddling (or is that Tweedledee?) art-geek masturbation.
Coraline has grown up in a creative, if slightly joyless, household. Her father writes about gardening and her mother edits his work. They just moved into a very old, large pink house with oodles of personality, which Coraline is encouraged to discover and toy around with instead of complaining about her boredom. The family hits a Shakespeare celebration together and treats Coraline as an equal, speaking openly and intelligently about their hints of career desperation and recent grocery neglect.
In other words, Coraline is privileged beyond her recognition, but that's a typical trait in a kid. What's inexcusable is that you would never know she comes from such a wealth of opportunity. She lacks any hint of introspection, rational thinking skills, skepticism or wit. Throughout her journey, she accepts what's presented to her, even though what's presented is impossible, and only begins to question her actions when her very survival depends on it. We're supposed to resent her parents, I suppose, for their inattentiveness to Coraline's boredom, but when she takes immediately to her doll-like, pampering 'other parents,â?� who may have dastardly plans beneath their Stepford exterior, all I can wonder is how ashamed her real parents would be. There's their little girl, crawling anxiously through a long, cozy birth canal back into a womb of false spoilage.
The lesson presented here in glorious RealD stereoscopic animation ' and a completely absorbing, transcendent technology is on display ' is that you should be careful what you wish for. I only wish it were this easy for everyone to learn. We're meant to root for Coraline and be impressed by her pluck, but she never formulates an idea of her own or rescues herself. Like an outdated video game, wise-yet-quirky characters bestow magical gifts on her and tell her how to use them against the quickly emerging evilness of her 'other motherâ?�; when those don't save her, still more characters pop up to finish the job.
At one point, Coraline (voiced atrociously by Dakota Fanning ' did anyone get the memo that 'voice actingâ?� is an art now?) confronts Mr. Bobinski, a big-top Master of Ceremonies (a wasted Ian McShane) who holds something she needs. 'You don't get it,â?� she admonishes, and I wanted Mr. Bobinski to call her out: 'Do you? Do the filmmakers, for that matter?â?�
Alice may have been gullible ' I mean, who dives into rabbit holes? ' but when presented with a bottle tagged 'Drink me,â?� she paused: 'No, I'll look first and see whether it's marked 'poison' or not.â?� She's reasonably intelligent, so we're on her side for as long as Lewis Carroll wants to keep us there.
Coraline wouldn't have made it to the second word before she was swigging. That's not cute or heroic. It's a movie killer.