2009-03-06 / Entertainment/Lifestyles

MovieScope

'Coraline' - Scary Tale
By Robert Snyder

Legend has it that theater owners in 1937 voiced complaints to Walt Disney after screenings of his animated classic, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

They were upset that young children were wetting their pants and their seats in mortal fear after the queen-to-hag transformation scene. Of course, such criticism did not stop Disney from continuing his reign of terror on tots with the shooting of the beloved mother deer in "Bambi," the horrific boy-todonkey transformation in "Pinocchio," the banshee scenes in "Darby O'Gill and the Little People," and on and on.

Chills for children did not start with Disney, going back before the Brothers Grimm. The latest terror fest for kids is "Coraline."

Written and directed by Henry Selick ("The Nightmare Before Christmas"), "Coraline" is based on the Neil Gaiman book and features spectacular 3- D stop-motion clay animation, the old-fashioned precomputer 1933 "King Kong" kind.

The story concerns a strong-willed, imaginative little girl named Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning), who is upset to find herself and her self-absorbed parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) relocated from Michigan to a spooky pink Victorian boarding house in Oregon. The house and area are populated with eccentric characters, but the strangest of all are her "other mother and father" (Hatcher and Hodgman again), who live in a parallel world accessed through a secret door in a wall.

At first, the "other parents" seem like a Godsend, cooking wonderful food and focusing exclusively on the neglected little girl However, they have a peculiar aspect: Their eyes are replaced by buttons.

As time and more adventures go by, Coraline realizes that the "others" are in the soul-stealing business. Feisty kid that she is, Coraline challenges her "other mother," who appears to be the Queen Bee as she grows to resemble Cruelle de Vil, the Disney villainess from "One Hundred and One Dalmatians."

"Coraline" is often truly scary, but never more so than "Hansel and Gretel," which still gives me nightmares. If the little ones aren't frightened by the 2-D version, 3-D may have parents consider bringing seat covers.

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