"Be careful what you wish for" is a cliche, but quite often a very valid one. It's also the basis for Coraline, a creative and visually stunning kids' movie from the folks behind The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) is a spunky young girl who just moved and couldn't be more depressed about it. Her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) are too absorbed in their work to pay any attention with her, and they're also dull. Next-door-neighbor inventor kid Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.) annoys Coraline with his chatting, and the only other housemates are a pair of old heavy actresses named Miss Forcible (Dawn French) and Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders), eccentric acrobat Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane) who trains mice for a circus, and a mangy old cat. And they all call her "Caroline" (except for the cat).

But someone has left Coraline a doll of her, and soon Coraline finds a sealed door in a room. This door goes to a long circular passage, which leads to a parallel world! In this new world everyone has buttons for eyes, but otherwise everything seems better than Coraline's old world. Other-Mother cooks delicious meals and plays lots of games, Other-Father is a creative genius whose garden even resembles Coraline, the toys are all alive, Wybie never speaks, and there are amazing shows put on for her.

But all isn't well. That mangy cat walks freely between the two worlds, and in the other world he speaks (voiced by Keith David), warning that this seemingly perfect world is a trap. And there's something horrible Other-Mother wants Coraline to do to stay in the other world forever...

Adapted from Neil Gaiman's novella of the same name, Coraline is a really fun movie. Director Henry Selik has a good ear for how the grownup world feels for a child, and what that child's ideal world would be. The voicework here is first rate, and the animation is beautiful (plus the 3-D works tremendously!). The story ultimately boils down to a kids' game, but Coraline remains a plucky and spirited heroine. If you're in the mood for a darker fairytale, or you liked The Nightmare Before Christmas, then go see Coraline.

Overall grade: A-

Reviewed by James Lynch

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