Made in Oregon: animated 'Coraline'

Made in Oregon: animated 'Coraline'

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The premiere of the animated movie "Coraline" brought out the stars Thursday to see the first feature film produced by Laika Entertainment, owned by Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

Teri Hatcher and Dakota Fanning were among the celebrities attending the premiere at Portland's Arlene Schnitzer Hall.

Also there for the event were the film's director Henry Selick, who also directed "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "James and the Giant Peach," and best-selling author Neil Gaiman, who penned the book "Coraline."

"I've been to several premieres but never one in Portland," said Knight, who was also at the premiere and making a rare public appearance. "I think it's just right for Portland."

He wore a pair of black Nike shoes with his suit and tie, but he was without the dark sunglasses he often wears when being photographed.

While working the rope line along the red carpet, Knight put on a pair of 3-D glasses handed out for the movie and gestured to a female reporter.

"Whoa, you look good in 3-D, I tell you," he said.

It was rare form for Knight, who is known for being more reserved.

The film is a gamble for one of the world's most successful businessmen, who compared the excitement of Thursday's premiere to unveiling of new Nike shoe.

Knight has said that he wants Laika to compete with Pixar Animation Studios, the company behind hit films such as "Toy Story" and "Cars."

But Laika has a ways to go, and while Knight's fortune guarantees the company could turn out a couple more movies despite what the box office figures look like, a lot rests on "Coraline."

The billionaire bought the Portland-based studio in 2003 when it was Will Vinton Studios.

His son Travis, 35, had been an animator for the company working on stop-motion animated television shows such as "The PJs" and "Gary and Mike."

Neither show was much of success. As the younger Knight recalls, only 11 episodes or so of "Gary and Mike" ran on TV.

"No one ever watched it, except us and our families," he said.

The Knights obviously want "Coraline" to do better. The director, Selick, has high hopes, too. He predicted the film could do as well as "The Nightmare Before Christmas," the hit he directed for producer Tim Burton.

But he hinted the success of "Coraline" could come after it leaves theaters.

"I'm absolutely certain this movie in its life will be successful," Selick said when asked how well the film must do to guarantee Laika remains up and running.

In 2006, Phil Knight announced plans for a 30-acre Laika campus in the Portland suburb of Tualatin, but the company has yet to break ground. The company also has yet to announce when another feature will be released. Just before the New Year, Laika halted plans for "Jack and Ben's Animated Adventure" and laid off 65 people.

The Knights promise the company will release more films and they plan to announce one of nine possible features later this year.

"I don't want to understate how important "Coraline" is to the company," Travis Knight said. "But we're in this for the long haul."

Like Gaiman's book, the movie is a dark tale of a young girl who enters a parallel world that seems sweeter than her reality at first, but turns frightening.

Fanning voices the movie's blue-haired heroine, Coraline. Hatcher, of "Desperate Housewives" fame, plays Coraline's mother and the "other mother," a sinister reflection of the title character's real mom with buttons stitched over her eyes.

"It's creepy — yeah, the buttons are creepy," Hatcher said. "We went around on how scary the mother should be."

Scary enough for some children, apparently. The stop-motion animated film, which is shot in 3-D, is rated PG.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.