Tuesday, July 21, 2009

DVD review: "Coraline"

"Coraline" is a delightful movie, and it's always a delight to see a film get a first-class video release right out of the gate.

The two-disc collector's edition DVD has almost everything a fan of this stop-motion animation gem could desire. To start with, it includes both 2-D and 3-D versions of the film. (Four sets of cardboard 3-D glasses are included with the DVD, though they're a bit flimsy. Far be it from me to suggest swiping sturdier plastic ones from a current showing of "Up.")

It also includes a digital copy of the film for legal downloading to your portable video device -- something that should be standard issue with DVDs, as far as I'm concerned. Luckily, studios seem to feel the same way and are including it with more DVD releases, and on most Blu-ray discs.

A 35-minute making-of documentary details the painstaking way in which animators move puppets frame-by-frame to lend the illusion of motion. There's also a featurette on casting the voice actors -- I hadn't even realized that John Hodgman (the "I'm a PC" guy from those TV commercials) supplied the graceful voice of the father -- and several deleted scenes.

A commentary track by writer/director Henry Selick and composer Bruno Coulais provides plenty of behind-the-scenes details. Selick says he was pressured to do the film in a half computer-generated/half stop-motion format, but successfully resisted. And he reveals that Dakota Fanning was nine years old when she was cast as Coraline, but was 14 by the time they finished.

The story, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, is about a girl who moves with her two workaholic parents to a dreary boarding house. She discovers a passageway to an alternate world where her "Other Mother," "Other Father" and all their neighbors are much friendly versions of themselves -- except for their creepy button eyes, which portend sinister developments.

In the mold of Selick's "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "Coraline" relies on gloomy imagery to weave a joyous tale of visual splendor.

Movie: 3.5 stars
Extras: 4 stars

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