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Review by Jack Foley

ANIMATION continues to be the one cinematic field that provides filmmakers with free reign in which to expand their imagination, and ours. Some of the most interesting and enjoyable films of recent years have been animated.

Think of Wall-E, Waltz With Bashir or Ratatouille and, to a lesser extent, Kung Fu Panda and Monsters Vs Aliens. All have seemlessly combined bold ambition with high quality entertainment.

Henry Selick’s delightfully dark Coraline is another entry onto that list. It’s enchanting, bewitching, funny, scary and, quite possibly, one of the animated films of the year.

Using stop-motion animation, Selick has crafted a film in the style of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas that, if anything, surpasses even those achievements using this particular medium. It’s destined to become an instant classic of enduring appeal.

Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) moves to a rickety new home with her busy mum and dad (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) and quickly feels isolated and bored.

When she discovers a door leading to a happier version of her own world, populated by a loving ‘other mother’ (Hatcher again) and jovial, fun-loving father, it seems too good to be true. But then Coraline is asked to allow them to replace her eyes with buttons and the chilling reality of her dangerous predicament becomes clear.

Given its themes of child snatching and murder, it’s worth noting that Coraline won’t be for the impressionable younger minds or anyone who scares easily. Adults, too, may well find themselves wincing at some of the latter scenes as Coraline’s other parents reveal their true colours.

But then some of the best children’s stories and films contain the scariest villains, whether it’s the Wicked Witch and flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz or The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Heck, even the witch in Snow White is alarming.

But children enjoy being a little scared, especially when a central character such as Coraline gets to win the day. Watching her fight back and overcome evil is part of the thrill.

And coupled with the magical world and colourful supporting characters that Selick creates, it’s not worth missing Coraline on the basis that it may be a little too scary.

So many of the sequences in Coraline are breathtaking, particularly in 3D, that they demand to be seen on the big screen. While the characters are oddball, eccentric and utterly memorable too – whether it’s the Russian fitness freak Mr Bobinsky (Ian McShane) or the bumbling Misses Spink and Forcible (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French).

Dakota Fanning, too, imbues Coraline with a suitably plucky quality, expertly offsetting her early bratty tendencies with a nice vulnerability and a feisty determination to triumph over evil.

And Teri Hatcher strikes a nice balance between her respective mothers vocally.

Indeed, there’s so much to enjoy in Coraline that the film zips by, leaving you hungry to see and be part of more of the world that Selick has created. In short, it’s a masterpiece that both children and adults can anjoy.

Visit the Coraline Photo Gallery

Certificate: PG
Running time: 100mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: October 12, 2009