For artistry and skill of execution, Henry Selick’s Coraline leapfrogs over his 1993 stop-action feature The Nightmare Before Christmas – and mercifully keeps the musical numbers to a bare minimum, with no Danny Elfman in sight. On the downside, the plot beggars any sense of necessity, with gaping lacunae and complex metaphysical mechanics passed off without explanation (blame Neil Gaiman). But the sheer spectacle of it all left me feeling uncommonly generous and I gladly forgave every fault for the sakes of Misses Forcible and Spink and for the dumb childish joy of Bobinski’s Jumping Mouse Circus. (Put those mice in front of me two minutes after an inoperable cancer diagnosis and I’d smile away Death himself.)
Stop-action is really something special. It preserves the glorious imperfection of all hand-made animation techniques while giving us a dose of the spooky realism of CGI at its best. Of course, stop-action isn’t always spooky: think Wallace and Gromit or the Rankin/Bass holiday specials. But while Selick’s sentimentality is still in evidence, with Coraline he returns stop-action to frontiers of the uncanny last traversed by Jan Svankmajer or the Brothers Quay. There’s something about watching a stick figure doll of a girl walk frame by frame through an old house that gives you an eerily novel perspective on your own creatureliness – and a dread of every supposedly inanimate object in the room.