Coraline is great movie fantasy. Stop-motion wiz Henry Selick adapts Neil Gaiman's novel with a dreamy feel for childhood afternoon adventures. The first risk is that titular hero Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) isn't made gratingly cute. Gaiman and Selick accept her as a weird kid, and that makes her adventure endearing. Her parents are reclusive writers with no time to play. While exploring her new home, Coraline tumbles across a doorway to an alternate universe, where her family is cool, the food tastes great and the universe seems good. No matter that here, everyone's eyes are replaced by buttons.
Selick reveals his sights and surprises with active curiosity. Though the film shares much with the episodic rules and encounters of Spirited Away and Pan's Labyrinth (and forefathers The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland), its texture is complimented by the viewer's desire to dig deeper---discovering what wonder or horror is uncovered next. Older children can take Coraline as a formative filmgoing experience: It's as close as a movie gets to the lucid nightmare feel of good fantasy writing. (MP)