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The opening sequence of "Coraline," in which a helpless rag doll is surgically sliced and disemboweled, sets the tone for this dazzling, delightfully dark children's movie. It's animated using old-fashioned figurines and stop-motion, but be warned: Burl Ives and Rudolph aren't showing up.

Based on Neil Gaiman's novel and directed by Henry Selick ( "The Nightmare Before Christmas") in a style that's more Brothers Quay than Disney- Pixar, "Coraline" follows its tomboyish heroine (charmingly voiced by Dakota Fanning) as she copes with a new town, a new house and distracted parents ( Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman). Soon she finds a portal to a seemingly perfect dream world in which her beautiful Other Mother and fun-loving Other Father cater to her every whim.

But why does Other Mother insist Coraline stay forever? "She wants something to love," says a psychologically astute black cat ( Keith David). And does that have anything to do with the frightening black buttons sewn into everyone's eyes?

Delving unusually deep into childhood fears, and heightened by Bruno Coulais' beautifully spooky score, "Coraline" will undoubtedly make an impression on youngsters. Some may even find themselves reliving it as they try to sleep.


PLOT A little girl moves into a new house and discovers a seemingly perfect parallel world in this 3-D animated movie.

CAST Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Keith David


PLAYING AT Showtimes and tickets at area theaters

BOTTOM LINE A work of wondrous animation with engaging characters, charming dialogue and more than a few intense moments.

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