Released: February 2009
Directed By: Henry Selick
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher
Story: By Henry Selick, based off of the book by Neil Gaiman
Plot (spoilers): Coraline Jones moves into a new house with her parents. She has weird neighbors (two old has-been thespians, and an old man in the attic training a mouse circus) and nothing to do. Her parents never pay any attention to her, and her father makes mysterious (and disgusting) “recipes” for dinner. She also is greatly annoyed by Wybie, a neighborhood boy who talks so much. Wybie also finds a doll of Coraline, who looks exactly like her, but with black button eyes. One day, Coraline discovers a door in the wall that seems to lead nowhere. That night, she spies a rat in the house, chases it, and watches as it goes behind the door. She follows it, and discovers a house exactly like hers, but more exciting, and more strange. Her Other Mother is a wonderful cook who only wants to love Coraline, and her Other Father has made her a beautiful garden. The two crazy old thespians downstairs put on wonderful shows, and she gets to see Mr. Bobinsky’s amazing mouse circus. Wybie is better, too: he can’t talk. Yet everything is also a little strange: the Other Mother and all her creations have black buttons for eyes. Coraline falls asleep in the Other House, and awakes in her own. The next day, she goes back, wanting more love and adventure. The Other Mother asks her to stay with them forever, but to do that, Coraline would have to sew black buttons in her eyes. Coraline says she wants to go home to her own parents. The Other Mother is furious, and becomes haggard and grotesque, and throws Coraline in a prison behind the mirror, where she meets three dead children whose souls the Other Mother ate. Wybie rescues her from the prison, and she escapes back to the real world, where she learns that the Other Mother has taken her real parents, and that one of the dead children is Wybie’s great aunt. She goes back to rescue her parents, with the help of a neighborhood cat who can talk, and knows about the Other Mother and her world. Coraline challenges the Other Mother to a contest: if she can find the three children’s stolen eyes, and her parents, then she’ll get to go home with all of them; if she can’t, she”ll stay with the Other Mother forever. Coraline does find all three eyes, and the Other Mother’s world and her power starts to deteriorate. Coraline finds her parents trapped in a snow globe and tricks the Other Mother into opening the doorway. After a struggle with the Other Mother (who has turned into a spider like creature), Coraline escapes into the real world, cutting off the Other Mother’s hand with the door. Once back home, her parents return, and she has a dream wherein she sees the children’s free souls. But they warn her that the Other Mother will come back. Coraline wakes to find the cat, who alert her to danger; the Other Mother’s hand is coming through the door to find the door’s one and only key. Coraline takes the key and runs to drop it down a well, but is followed by the hand, who attacks her. Wybie shows up and helps her defeat the hand, which they drop down a well with the key. The next day, Coraline holds a garden party, with her weird neighbors and family.
It’s really quite the lovely film. I’ve always admired any filmmaker that can get through stop-motion animation. And it’s shot in 3D! The first thing you notice about the film is how lush it is, how detailed and dramatic all the shots are, how the colors just pop right off the screen (especially in the Other Mother’s world). This is in direct contrast to the book, which is spare on description and high on action. It’s actually quite symptomatic of the fairy tale world: most fairy tale stories (especially the Grimms and Hans Christian Andersen, but also Russian, Spanish, and Italian tales) are very sparse, focusing on action and not description. (The notable exception to this is, of course, Middle Eastern tales). Translating the meaning-rich, but not description-rich, tales to film usually involves beefing them up a bit, something to which I am not at all opposed.
Coraline is a film – and a book – that can be enjoyed by all ages. And I should know. I went with my Mother (yes, yes I did, because who else was going to go with me to see a kid’s movie?), and she loved it. She couldn’t stop talking about it afterwards. And let me mention: we went to a 9:30 pm showing, and this is a woman who goes to bed at 9. And she was on the edge of her seat the whole time. I would also recommend this film for kids of all ages, but if you have a kid who scare easy, you might want to think before bringing them. There’s no real violence, but when the Other Mother goes all spider-like, she’s a little scary.
There is a definite Alice-in-Wonderland vibe to this film. It greatly resembles Alice in that its main message is to appreciate the world one has, even if its boring. It’s not until Alice goes into Wonderland and gets lost and miserable that she appreciates her own boring, reasonable existence. As Neil Gaiman put it (in the book), when Coraline returns “the sky had never seemed so sky, and the world had never seemed to world.” This message is also shared by the Wizard of Oz, wherein Dorothy learns that when looking for something, she should “never look further than my own backyard, and if it isn’t there, then I never really lost it to begin with.” In short, Coraline is probably destined to become a classic (if not quite normal) children’s film, and you should see it on the big screen while you’ve got the chance.