There are just a few more days until Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience displaces Coraline 3D in theaters. This is a shame, but at least you’ll still be able to see this wonderful film in 2D. Certainly don’t go see it in Dolby 3D at Pacific’s Grove Theater. Crowd control problems, dim projection and headache-inducing strobey-ness.

I can’t officially blame the stuttering of the image ( it happened any time there was fast motion on the Dolby Digital 3D technology), which is the main competitor to market leader Real D1. It could be the stop-motion style of the animation that was causing it. It’s just that I’ve never experienced that problem before with master animator Henry Selick’s previous films, like Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride.

Selick continues to outdo himself, stepping out of the shadow of Tim Burton (with whom he has collaborated on many projects) and personally adapting the Neil Gaiman story of Coraline, a blue-haired only child who discovers a door to an alternate universe in the old house into which she and her writer parents have just moved.

As first this alternaworld seems perfect. Her ‘other mother’ (a creepy Teri Hatcher) cooks delicious food and her ‘other father’ (John Hodgeman, of all people) has built a garden full of magical glowing plants that looks like a Stan Herd portrait of Coraline when seen from above. The wacky neighbors who live on the other floors of the house in the real world, a Russian circus acrobat upstairs and two British former burlesque
performers downstairs, in this world give Coraline magical entertainments, instead of giving her root vegetables and rock-hard taffy.

But there is a dark side to the other world, as Coraline discovers when her ‘other’ parents ask her to sew buttons into her eyes and stay there forever. Continue reading about Coraline 3D (no spoilers)…

Selick and his team at Laika have really outdone themselves. The design work is as visually strong as any animated film ever made (I love Wybie’s welder mask with a rotating triple lens like on old 8mm cameras. There are small details in the way the characters move and emote that really demonstrate the animator’s craft.

The pacing of the film is a little off at times and the musical score, by French composer , just can’t compete with the Danny Elfman scores of previous Selick films. There were many times where I expected the music to take the film to another level and instead it just bloinked along.

The mix of CG and real puppet animation is truly seamless. I could not tell where one ended and another began. Sequences like the mouse circus, which I assumed must have been done in cg (who want to hand-animate hundreds of mice?) were done in stop motion. Mind-blowing.

At the end of the credits there a title card that says: “For those in the know: Jerk Wad.” This is what Coraline says when she throws her shoe at one point. A little Googling will reveal that this also password you can use on the website to order a pair of Coraline’s Nikes. (Nike founder Phil Knight is Sellick’s patron, having founded the animation company Laika, named after the Russian cosmonaut dog. How’s that for trivia?)

MORE:
An evening with Henry Selick
Comingsoon.net interview

1. Here is how a CNET article breaks down how the technologies differ:

Real D and Dolby rely on the same basic idea to give an audience the illusion of depth: show images that differ slightly in vantage point to each of a viewer’s eyes. The viewer’s brain will reconstruct the third dimension, just as it does in the real world.

Both companies require glasses to ensure each eye gets only the correct view; Real D uses circular polarization while Dolby uses a color-filtering technology licensed from Infitec. The light is separated into the left-eye and right-eye views at the projector, switching back and forth 144 times per second.

With the new method, “there’s no eye fatigue like in the 1950s and 1970s,” said Tim Partridge, Dolby’s head of products and technology.

In Dolby 3D, a spinning CD-size wheel between the lamp and the digital projector alternately lets through one set of light frequencies or another — two slightly different versions of the red, green and blue primary colors for each eye. The wheel spins six times for each movie frame, with the digital projector synchronized to show the appropriate eye’s image.

In contrast, Real D uses an electronic filter called a Z-screen that circularly polarizes the light two different ways after it leaves the projector, also switching back and forth six times per frame to avoid flicker. Circular polarization — a complicated transformation of light’s electromagnetic properties — requires the use of a special silver screen that retains the polarization as the light reflects back toward the audience.

My eyes would beg to differ with Mr. Partridge. The color fidelity with the Dolby technology, given that it seems like an update of the old red/blue anaglyph tech, is excellent. In any case, the strobe-motion at this screening was enough to make me want to choose a Real D theater next time, on merely the chance it’s Dolby 3D’s fault.