Coraline

Wonderfully weird stop-motion animated film from the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, who adapted the "young readers" book by cult writer Neil Gaiman, immediately ranks among the creepiest movies ever made for kids. That's a compliment.

Moving Gaiman's story from a London flat to a Victorian house on the outskirts of Ashland, Oregon (a nice touch; I like Ashland, and I find it a worthy setting for a spooky movie), director/production designer Selick and his animators produce spectacular visuals while telling Gaiman's Wonderland-esque story about a lonesome girl (Coraline) who finds a secret tunnel leading into a mirror world that seems too good to be true.

I saw this in 3D - the first "modern" 3D film I've ever seen, in fact - and while initially I wished I could just watch the film as is, without a pair of plastic 3D glasses uncomfortably squeezed over my normal spectacles, the 3D effect works well. There are a few "comin' at ya!" shots to delight the kiddies, but the gimmickry doesn't get in the way of the storytelling.

Anyway, while I am going to go ahead and say that Coraline is the first great movie of 2009, and while it may even make my ten best list at the end of the year thanks to the mountains of imagination on display and a satisfyingly dark storyline (three cheers for a children's film that will scare the crap out of kids!), it's not perfect: As the voice of Coraline, Dakota Fanning is kind of irritating, and Selick's pandering tween-age dialogue (Coraline to a not-so-scary black cat: "You're a wuss puss!") doesn't help. In fact it adds an unwelcome "kiddy movie" element to a film that, like the best of Pixar, should feel like it's made for adults as well. But it doesn't detract from the extraordinary animation.