I waited very patiently for my turn to come up in the library queue to borrow this DVD. And it was well worth the wait.
I made it a point to read the book first for two reasons: 1) I find that if I see the film adaptation before reading the book, the book offers less impact; 2) It's Neil freaking Gaiman. How could I not want to read a story by that guy?
When I read the book, I had the wonderful illustrations of Dave McKean to compliment the fantastic tale told by Gaiman. Watching the movie, the art direction and style took a less dark, more whimsical approach, but it really worked. And to see this movie in stop-motion animation, I honestly can't imagine it being presented in any other way. Live action with CGI thrown in wouldn't have had the same resonance, and I doubt even a well done, old school "cartoon" style would have done the story justice.
The movie came in two versions--a traditional widescreen format and the much ballyhooed 3-D experience. The DVD even came with a few of those nifty 3-D glasses, which looked like they'd been pilfered from a batch of cereal boxes. I gave the 3-D a shot, but with the red-green eye pieces drowning out so much of the film's amazing color, I gave it up. Whatever eye-popping gimmickry succeeded with the theatrical release, it was lost on me in my living room. And I felt like an idiot wearing those glasses.
The story plays out much like the book, with Coraline and her parents moving into a house in Oregon, divided into apartments shared by an eccentric Russian gymnast/mouse trainer and two aging actresses with their many stuffed dogs. Coraline misses her friends, resents her parents, and finds the new place boring as heck. Then she finds a secret door that leads her into another world where she meets her Other Mother, who tries to win over Coraline into staying with her forever.
Where the movie differs from the book comes with some of the characterization and some of the details in the settings. One of the first things is how the door between worlds isn't a standard door, as in the book, but a short hatchway of a door. It's low enough to give the feeling that it's on only Coraline's level, and not her parents' level. Then there is the colors which appear very bright and vibrant in the Other world, while the real world is portrayed as flat and drab.
In the movie, it felt like the black cat that can also pass between worlds--and talks in the Other world--plays a more prominent role, much like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Although, that's hardly a bad thing when the incomparable Keith David is behind the voice of the cat.
Voice acting also provides a sharp contrast between book and film. Dakota Fanning may seem like a safe choice by the studio, but she's also a great choice to bring life to Coraline and her nuances. Jonathan Hodgman, of "I'm a PC" fame, did a great job as both Coraline's father and her Other Father. The Other Father is diminished in one capacity through the film--I won't spoil the specifics--while he is expanded upon as well with a great garden scene where he does his part to entice Coraline into staying.
It's really hard to pick a winner between the book and the movie. Both were very enjoyable experiences and the changes made in the film adaptation, for the most part, helped translate the story from the written word. The only fault I can really hold against the movie is the gimmickry that comes with 3-D. I am not a fan of the format, at least in a home entertainment context. I haven't gone to the theaters to see a 3-D movie yet, but that's in large part to the fact that nearly all 3-D movies look hokey and rely solely on the 3-D experience to get butts in seats.
Winner: The Book. It's real close, but Neil Gaiman's words jump off the page in a way that not even the magic of cinema can fully reproduce. There's nothing wrong at all with the movie and is a great film for everyone in the family. The book, I feel, dives into the solitude and detachment Coraline feels when she arrives and starts to explore unfamiliar territory, and a piece of that got lost in translation while on screen.