In this splendidly dark children's animated fantasy, young Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) finds a secret door in her new home and discovers an alternate version of her dull routine. On the surface, the parallel world is eerily similar to her real life - only much better. But her adventure takes a malevolent turn and she runs the risk of being trapped in this false realm forever... Director Henry Selick brings the sinister sensibility of his earlier Nightmare Before Christmas to this sublimely twisted fairy tale. Warning: anyone with a fear of buttons should look away now...
The cuddly phrase "cute as a button" takes on a wincingly malevolent slant in this splendidly warped nursery chiller.
Creepy buttons are eyes for the Stepford-like residents of the world bored 11-year-old Coraline (Fanning) creeps through to via a door in the sagging plaster of her new home.
She's just moved house with her parents - a distracted couple pre-occupied with work on a garden centre catalogue - and is missing her friends back home in Michigan.
Not even the larger-than-life presence of two gin-swilling old theatrical dames (French & Saunders) in the basement or Ian McShane's gravity-defying Russian tumbler in the flat above can compensate for a life starved of childish excitement.
So she's delighted to discover this cob-webbed portal into an apparent paradise - a parallel dimension where a doppelganger of her mother prepares mouth-watering chicken roasts rather than the Vegan Society-approved lumps of chard she's served back in her first life.
"Other Mother" is a solicitous. kindly simulacrum of what she knows, yet far more affectionate and concerned that the besotted Coraline is the centre of attention.
The delicious darkness of arch-cinematic fantasist Henry Selick married to the skewed novel by Sandman author Neil Galman bears the same sort of forbidden fruit as Selick's masterful collaboration The Nightmare Before Christmas with Tim Burton.
Other Mother's skin-crawling transition from off-kilter surrogate mum to demonic, scissor-handed parent-for-life is terrifyingly achieved, queasily bolstered by a hefty dose of East European cartoon surrealism.
There's plenty of spooky flights of fancy, including vampiric scottie dogs swooping from the rafters and the jovially disturbing antics of the knackered thespian sisters Spink and Forcible down below.
Dispensing with computer trickery for old-fashioned stop-motion animation, it looks absolutely glorious in 3-D with mundane items reinvented such as snow made from superglue and baking soda and cherry blossoms rendered form "popped" popcorn kernels.
It's not really suitable for younger children but their elder brothers and sisters will be fiendishly entranced by the best children's movie this year.
Naysayers can button it.