31 Days of Horror: “Coraline” (2009)


I have always felt there are some pretty horrific elements to the original story of Coraline, written by Neil Gaiman (2002), that were worked into a spectacular stop motion animation by Henry Selick, The book wasn’t even published before Selick got his hands on it to make it into a movie.

With all due respect to the book, I love what they changed and added for the movie. Selick compares the book to the movie throughout the commentary. He has nothing but the utmost respect for it and all of his story tweaks were for the sake of the film and inspired by the book. I feel that he made some creative and effective decisions. This movie also has a haunting, beautiful soundtrack. The music is written by Bruno Coulais (except one song by They Might Be Giants, which is the other father’s song about Coraline).

The beginning opens with some sweet, eerie little tune, and over it, you can faintly hear a woman’s voice humming, and during this you see a rag doll being recreated by some sort of instrument (needle-like fingers, perhaps?)
It’s being torn apart, detailed, restuffed, etc. After seeing the movie or reading the book and watching this again, the hair stood on my arms, quite honestly, and why is does, I cannot reveal to you without giving too many creepy details of the story away.

Coraline Jones, voiced by Dakota Fanning (was there anything this kid couldn’t do?!) is a quick-witted, snarky, bored eleven year-old living the typical American kid lifestyle. Her parents, voiced by the talents of Terri Hatcher and John Hodgman, have just recently settled into a new place- a huge old house called Pink Palace, a name coined by Selick for the film. The house is made up of several apartments inhabited by some interesting characters. Coraline’s mom and dad are busy and stressed. They have deadlines to make and boring work to do with their adult-life stuff, and Coraline is bored.

She meets Wybie, whose grandmother has lived there for many, many years. She knows a thing or two about something strange that has happened there, but Wybie isn’t supposed to talk about it, which he makes clear to Coraline right away. Coraline promptly decides to act out as much animosity as she can toward this annoying boy and his stupid cat, who she calls a “wuss puss” while driving them away as quickly as she can. At some point in the beginning, after meeting Wybie, he gives her a doll he found that bears an odd resemblance to her. She thinks it’s a bit weird, but she is also quite pleased with it and keeps it close.

Coraline awakes one night to discover a secret door that was once blocked by a brick wall now opens into a magical tunnel that leads into a new world with another mother and another father- a mother who cooks delicious food and wants to play games, and wants nothing more than to give Coraline everything she;s ever wanted. The other mother is bright and cheery and lovely, and despite the weird button eyes on everyone, everything’s perfect. The other neighbors are living their dreams, the other Wybie can’t talk, and everything is beautiful and fun and interesting- a world built just for her. Coraline also meets who she thinks is the other cat (Keith David)- who surprises her by saying, “I’m not the other anything. I’m me.” Coraline finds that this cat can slip between her world and the other world as she can. Coraline soon realizes that this other world isn’t as great as she thought, creepy even, and as the other mother feels her slipping away, the other world soon begins to deteriorate, and along with the other mother, reveal itself for what it really is.

Coraline decides that she’ll take her boring parents and weird but well-meaning neighbors over this freak show any day, but the other mother isn’t willing to let her go. Again I’ll point out what an incredible performance Teri Hatcher gives, as really THREE separate characters for this film. She voices an exasperated mother and wife, who possesses similar emotional dimensions that many preoccupied parents can relate to, as there are genuine moments of sadness that her character portrays when trying to relate to her dissatisfied preteen- she does an excellent job of it. She also plays the very attentive, doting, and sweet “other mother,” and eventually a desperate and terrifying creature that is spiraling into despair.

If you haven’t watched the movie, I recommend it. If you haven’t read the book, I recommend that, too. Then watch the movie again, and then again, but with the commentary. Just a suggestion.

The last thing I’ll say about this movie is that it’s one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever seen, and each time I see it, there is something I notice that I hadn’t before, and something that makes me love it even more.

–Catherine Kincannon