Nightmare Before Christmas fan Neil Gaiman met Henry Selick just as he was about to publish Coraline, a meeting that inspired the elaborate, spooky screen version of the Sandman author’s novel for kids. It took seven years for Selick to complete the movie, which was the first for the Laika stop-motion animation studio and one of the first stop-motion movies to be shot in 3D.
Facially, the characters are an improvement over the already intricate creatures of “Nightmare,” each with a set of interchangeable mouths and other features that offer a combined potential of more than 200,000 facial expressions. (Some of the characters were manufactured through the use of black-and-white 3D printers, a first.) The movie also called for the building of 150 different sets at the Laika studio.
The result is a mesmerizing and truly creepy tale of a girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning) who, disenchanted with her parents, discovers an alternate world, complete with a new mom and dad who will spoil her. But Other Mother turns out to be a soul-stealing witch, and Coraline must rely on her wits not only to escape but to free the other trapped souls. The stop-motion figures turn out to be apt for a story whose central recurring image is that of a girl or woman with stitched black buttons where her eyes should be, like a doll. Of course, Selick’s stars really are dolls, yet they’re as unique, lively, and soulful as real people.
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