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Lonely Girl Discovers Mysterious Fantasyland in 'Coraline'

A lonely little girl discovers a land of fantasy inside the walls of her house; but it's also a place of peril from which she must escape in order to save her family. The story from a children's mystery novel by award-winning author Neil Gaiman has been made into a stop-motion animation feature directed by Henry Selick, who also made the acclaimed The Nightmare Before Christmas. Here's a look at the new film Coraline.

Coraline Jones has been searching for excitement ever since she and her mom and dad moved into their new home. Her busy parents hardly have time to look up from their computers. Left to explore on her own, Coraline is delighted to discover a tiny secret door hidden by wallpaper. Behind it is a strange tunnel that leads to the mirror image of her home; but instead of cold and indifferent, this one is warm and inviting.

The mom sounds just like Coraline's mom, but she is attentive and enthusiastic and a good cook. Then Coraline is shocked to see the familiar face with great big buttons instead of eyes …kind of like a big doll's face.

This other home with other mother and other father seems to be just what Coraline has been dreaming of; but she quickly discovers the danger that is hidden beneath the pretty veneer.

"What I think is really cool about the movie is it takes everything you think is perfect and innocent and wonderful and kind of turns it upside-down. That's what I like about the fantasy of it," says Dakota Fanning, who stars as the voice of Coraline. The veteran child actor - now a teenager - is a fan of the original book and says the film builds on its sense of wonder and fantasy.

"For what I do I have to have such an imagination because a lot of times you are looking at or talking to something that isn't there or doesn't talk or whatever it maybe," Fanning explains. " I think you really have to have a very active imagination and that's what I love about this movie as well. That is what it is kind of about: imagining and a fantasy world."

Director Henry Selick adapted the book into a screenplay and then, with his team of stop-motion animators, created the surreal world of Coraline with miniature puppets manipulated frame-by-frame. It may be surreal, but Selick believes children - and parents - recognize the heart of the story.

"We tried to create a family, as in the book, that is not perfect," explains Selick. "Mom is struggling [and] she is grouchy. Dad is ineffectual and anyone might imagine a better life for themselves; but in this case Coraline finds this other world where things seem better; but ultimately underneath it there is a fierce love with this family for each other."

As he has shown in his previous stop-motion films, The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, Selick is drawn to dark stories; and Coraline author Neil Gaiman says that made him the ideal director to film his edgy fable.

"I love doing darker stuff, partly because I think when you go into the dark you can see the light so much more clearly," he says. "For me what is important about Coraline is not the fact that it gets scary, but it's about a little girl who gets to be really brave and really smart. She doesn't have any magic powers and she goes up against something nasty and she wins. I think in terms of lessons that you want to teach kids or morals or whatever, it's not that you're telling them there are monsters out there or dragons or bogeymen. What you're telling them is that the monsters can be beaten. You can be brave and smart and keep going and you can win."

To which the voice of Coraline, Dakota Fanning, adds: "read the book."

"I think even though the book and the film are the same story, for a film you have to embellish parts and leave parts out, but the book is the original," she notes. "So I think you should definitely read it and then see it …or see it and then read it; but I think it's important to read the book too because it's such a good book."

Coraline also features the voices of Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman as the mother and father; English comic actresses Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French (of "Ab Fab" fame) play Spink and Forcible, two irascible old theater stars; and Ian McShane is the acrobatic mouse trainer Mr. Bobinsky.