Based on Neil Gaiman's book, 'Coraline' is a children's story that is not afraid to be scary and even at times slightly disturbing. Like many of Roald Dahl's creations, a good deal of the protagonists have a certain grotesqueness to them. What harm? Last time I checked, children still had far more vile and interesting imaginations than the vast majority of adults.

The tale takes place in two parallel worlds. The first is a grim, remote house set in a rather dull landscape to which the heroine, Coraline (Fanning), and her family have moved.

Coraline is an only child whose parents are constantly busy, meaning she finds herself left to her own devices.

The distractions on offer aren't up to much either - with the only person her own age in the locale having a predilection for the macabre that makes him a not quite ideal friend.

But there is another dimension to Coraline's new home. A strange doll she receives as a present turns out to be the key to a similar but far more colourful fantasy land where, at first, whatever Coraline wants seems to happen. As with many a classic story, everything in this parallel world tastes better, looks better and smells better.

Except for the fact that all of its inhabitants have buttons instead of eyes.

But this second world also contains a hint of menace underneath the surface, at the heart of the unsettling vibe is Coraline's 'other mother' (Hatcher). The 'other mother' is a superficially nicer copy of her real mother (Hatcher again), except that she has a hidden agenda (and those creepy button eyes).

Coraline's father (Hodgman) and her neighbours - a pair of old theatre luvvies with a vast collection of stuffed highland terriers (French and Saunders) and an eccentric gymnast mouse trainer (McShane) - also have their opposites. Again, they are initially more colourful and fun than anything in the real world.

Eventually, Coraline uncovers the 'other mother's real agenda and in an exciting finale is forced to challenge her.

Overall, this is a diverting and thought provoking tale. In terms of pace, it is possibly slightly slow in the opening three-quarters - the old difficulty of portraying boredom without being boring - and a little compressed towards the finish.

But the narrative addresses some of the authentic concerns of children: boredom and lack of attention and interest from overbusy parents.

It also looks extremely well, though the 3D element available in certain theatres is more of an occasional gimmick than an integral part of the experience.

Plenty of kids will enjoy this and it is well made enough for most adults to get something out of it too. For what it's worth, though it is superficially gross and grungy, the core moral message is one most parents will strongly approve of.

Brendan Cole