There are many scenes and images in “Coraline” that are likely to scare children. This is not a warning but rather a recommendation, since the cultivation of fright can be one of the great pleasures of youthful moviegoing. As long as it doesn't go too far toward violence or mortal dread, a film that elicits a tingle of unease or a tremor of spookiness can be a tonic to sensibilities dulled by wholesome, anodyne, school-approved entertainments...“Coraline” lingers in an atmosphere that is creepy, wonderfully strange and full of feeling.
Selick avoids using the movie's 3-D canvas for ostentatious "gotcha" effects, instead employing the enhanced perspective the way a painter might, adding subtle details of height and distance that would be diminished in the standard 2-D frame as he slowly envelops us in Coraline's dueling realities. Best of all, he understands that the most affecting fables are those in which sweet dreams turn out to be trapdoors to nightmares. So enter Coraline at your own risk, and watch where you step.
The director of "Coraline" has suggested it is for brave children of any age. That's putting it mildly. This is nightmare fodder for children, however brave, under a certain age. I know kids are exposed to all sorts of horror films via video, but "Coraline" is disturbing not for gory images but for the story it tells. That's rare in itself: Lots of movies are good at severing limbs, but few at telling tales that can grab us down inside where it's dark and scary.
As I drank in the phantasmagoria, the surreal music-hall routine, the flower dances, the giant grasshopper ride, the heroine's endless prowls around artificial landscapes, I kept wondering what I was missing. It might be as basic as emotional focus. The pace is barely varied, and instead of becoming a spitfire detective (as in the book), Coraline drifts around in a daze. Selick saddles her with a playmate—a curly-haired boy with a souped-up, sci-fi-worthy scooter—and her initial impatience with him makes no dramatic sense: It's the lack of contact with kids that helps drive her into that alternate universe. Selick botches the climax by having the boy roar back and deprive Coraline of her ultimate triumph. Did he need a male character to keep this from being a, you know, girl picture?