Who's In It: The voices of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Ian McShane, Keith David, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French
The Basics: A young girl named Coraline crawls through a secret door in her new home and discovers a fantastic alternate version of her own life: her "Other" parents are attentive (so what if they have weird buttons for eyes?), food is better, circus mice do amazing tricks, spectacular gardens are planted in her honor. Everything is great. Until it's not. And then things get strange, surreal and scary right around the time that "Other Mom" decides that it's time for Coraline to trade in her own eyes for buttons. Then those ghost children show up and "Other Mom" turns into a... well... you'll see.
What's The Deal: This is the perfect movie to show a kid who's outgrown the Little Mermaid phase of her or his life, right before you sit the child down in front of Eraserhead for the first time. In other words, it will scare the crap out of any little one who hasn't already decided they're a Goth by second grade. It's insanely beautiful to look at (especially in 3D) but creator Neil Gaiman, who wrote the original book, isn't interested in lighthearted fairy tales. He knows that childhood can be a terrifying place sometimes and he's not afraid to take you to the darkest heart of it
How It's Nothing Like The Nightmare Before Christmas: Yes, it's elaborately animated via the stop-motion process, but the similarities end there. Nightmare is, oddly, a movie as safe as a glass of warm milk, one that ushers you directly into a world of adorable, well-meaning monsters and ghouls who love to scare but are never mean. Meanwhile here, the moral is that self-reliance and dealing with imperfection is part of growing up and that narcissism coupled with a world that's "too pretty" and "too easy" can turn you into a monster. Cakes come to life before your eyes, beautiful flowers grow instantly to create your own personal garden and every delightful thing you could want is laid out before you: and under it all is a horror show about to unfold.
Let Me Emphasize This Part Again: The stop-motion process is a major relief from the recent onslaught of digital animated experiences, all of which have begun to blur together into one big talking-dog-making-a-poop joke. And travel long distances to see it in 3D if you have to. It's that spectacularly trippy a visual experience, enough to make you want to crawl through your own doom-door yourself just to see what's on the other side.
Stay Through The End Credits: It's one of those movies where there's cool stuff to watch until the last frame flickers on screen.