On DVD July 21, 2009
Just like so many people today seeking out an alternative to what they consider a tedious existence, Coraline Jones saw a way out and jumped on (or to be more accurate, crawled through) the opportunity. She wishes she could escape her dank sepia-toned life and follows a tunnel to what seems to promise a better and more colorful life. She is surprised when one night her dream seemingly becomes a reality.
Told through dazzling stop-motion animation and 3D, Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is an adventurous and spunky preteen who has just moved to a new neighborhood with her parents. Her new house is old and creeky, as are her new neighbors. The strange boy who lives next door offers little friendship, and his constant chatter makes her wish he would just keep his mouth shut. Her parents are too preoccupied with their own needs to tend to hers. Her mother (Teri Hatcher) has little patience for her insistent questions and constant requests to play outside in the rain. Her father (John Hodgman), not much more patient than her mother, encourages her to count the windows in their house as a form of entertainment. They see her more as a nuisance than as their daughter. Meals consist of gloopy green and brown vegetable concoctions and shopping outings provide little more than grey school uniforms. Coraline cannot rely on those around her to provide any sort of entertainment or thrill to life so she must create it on her own. She follows her father’s window-counting suggestion, but adds her own creative and imaginative flair to it. One of her discoveries while counting the windows in her new home is a small door in the living room which has been locked up and covered up by wallpaper. She thinks it odd, but when trying to open it proves futile, she moves on to her next self-made adventure.
One night she is awakened by an odd noise and follows the clammor downstairs only to find the mystery door wide open. Following her childlike instincts, she ventures through the door. Through the door (which might as well be Alice’s Rabbit Hole or Dorothy’s venture into Oz) is everything Coraline dreams of. In this new world, everything exists like it does on the other side, only better; she even has new parents. This “Other Mother and Other Father” are the polar opposites of her real parents – they are attentive and care for her and offer her all the things that were forbidden in her real home. Her newfound house is full of bright colors and smiling parents. Her Other Mother serves up full delicious meals where she can even choose her own milkshake flavor. Her neighbors are whimsical and offer her hours of entertainment. Even the noisy boy next door has his mouth sewn shut, a dream come true for Coraline!
All is seemingly perfect except for one odd difference – in place of eyes everyone she encounters in this alternate universe has buttons for eyes. Her Other Mother even offers her a permanent place in this new reality. Initially excited, Coraline soon realizes there’s one major catch. She can only stay if she replaces her eyes with buttons, just like everyone else in this Other World. Furthermore, the Other Mother turns out to be a cruel witch who has a history of kidnapping unsuspecting children and keeping them trapped in her Other World. Coraline soon comes to realize that the grass is not always greener on the other side and chooses her old life over the newfound one. She also comes to realize that things might not have been so bad with her real parents, they just need to learn more about each other.
One of the most interesting pieces of the film lies in the examination of the mother figure. Coraline seeks out this Other Mother when her real mom is not paying attention to her. She needs that motherly affection that is so basically human and she thinks she has found it in this new incarnation of her mother. While she is no angel herself, Coraline is not deserving of such neglect from her mother. Motherdom throughout the history of film is a source of much anxiety (thank you Norman Bates), and this film comments that not only can a mother do great harm to her children, but there is also a fine line between good and bad parenting. Coraline’s mother is demonized for not giving her anything she wanted, yet her Other Mother, the one who gave her whatever her heart desired, was literally a witch.
It’s also no coincidence that the Others on the other side of the door have no eyes. Not only that, the witch who took the shape of Coraline’s mother has a history of stealing the eyes of other unsuspecting children. Eyes are commonly thought to be the window to the soul, and without eyes the soul is lost or hidden. What does it mean that a mother, a supposed nurturer and caretaker is the one stealing eyes? In fact, in both realities, the mother is the character stealing or squashing souls. Coraline’s real mother has no tolerance for her ’tween’s ambitious nature and seeks to put the kibosh on her explorations while her Other Mother wants to trap her in the alternate universe and take what is so uniquely hers, her eyes, the way in which not only does the world see her, but the way in which she sees the world, the way she puts her own unique stamp on the universe. Mothers continue to get a bad reputation in American cinema, the difference here is that Coraline and her mom eventually work out their differences and come to respect one another’s needs.
The marvel of this film, in addition to the great story telling and vibrant characters, is the animation. Similar to The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline is filmed stop-motion animation, but with a twist. This time, director Henry Selick decided to add another dimension to this film – literally. Shot in 3D, the images leap off the screen in animated glory which makes the story come alive and the true contrast between Coraline’s old and new worlds come into deeper focus.
Coraline, like The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, explores the issue of leaving home for a better life, albeit an unknown one. Like her predecessors, she comes to realize that no matter how exciting it seems over the rainbow or down the rabbit hole, there is no place like home.