"Coraline" could well be the first animated feature of 2009 to contend at next year's Oscars. Based on generally enthusiastic reviews, "Coraline" scores a solid 80 at Meta Critic and 79 with the top critics on Rotten Tomatoes. By way of comparison, current Oscar nominee "Kung Fu Panda" — which just swept the Annie Awards — managed only 73 at Meta Critic and 74 at Rotten Tomatoes.
The likes of Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly and Los Angeles Times lead scribe Kenneth Turan were especially impressed with "Coraline." Said Turan: "The third dimension comes of age with 'Coraline.' The first contemporary film in which the 3-D experience feels intrinsic to the story instead of a Godforsaken gimmick, 'Coraline' is a remarkable feat of imagination, a magical tale with a genuinely sinister edge. The story of an 11-year-old girl's adventures in an alternate universe, 'Coraline' comes by its disturbing qualities honestly, through the efforts of writer-director Henry Selick and novelist Neil Gaiman. It may be rated PG, but it is more suitable for adults than the very small among us." And Schwarzbaum thought, "This thrilling stop-motion animated adventure is a high point in Selick's career of creating handcrafted wonderlands of beauty blended with deep, disconcerting creepiness."
Henry Selick has directed two acclaimed stop-motion films — "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993) and "James and the Giant Peach" (1996) — both of which predated the 2001 introduction of the animated feature category at the Oscars. In 2005, two of the three Oscar nominees — the winning "Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and "Corpse Bride" — were stop-motion. "Coraline," based on the acclaimed book by Neil Gaiman, has the added bonus of being presented in 3-D.
However, so too does the heavily promoted "Monsters vs. Aliens" due out next month. That film is from DreamWorks, which won the first animated feature Oscar with "Shrek," contended on its own three more times — "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" (2002), and both "Shark Tale" and "Shrek 2" (2004) — and co-produced the winning "Wallace and Gromit" entry. In the current Oscar race, the studio is hoping "Kung Fu Panda" can translate all those Annie Awards into one Academy Award.
Photo: Focus Features
'Kung Fu Panda drop kicks 'Wall-E' at Annie Awards