Coraline Jones: Wybie’s got a cat like you at home. Not the quiet Wybie, the one that talks too much. You must be the Other Cat.
Cat: No… I’m not the other anything. I’m me.
I’m going to start my review a bit backward today. This movie, despite the fact that it’s an animation and stop motion, is NOT a movie for young children. I would probably start a kid on this movie at age 10, or even above. That being said, this is a good, maybe even a great movie. It’s a creepy movie, but at the same time extremely endearing. It’s a great movie for older children as well as adults. So what makes this movie so mature? Lots of things
Coraline is based on a novella of the same name by the ever wonderful Neil Gaiman. Something I’ve found is that people are either fans of Neil Gaiman, or really dislike him. In case you aren’t familiar with Mr. Gaiman, he is a british writer who has written graphic novels, novellas, and novels, typically of the fantasy/sci-fi or morbid nature. Possibly his most famous work is “Sandman,” which I honestly have not read but a boyfriend of mine in high school was obsessed. He’s also written a few (2) episodes of Doctor Who, including the very popular “The Doctor’s Wife.” (side note: I am a major Whovian. Any time I can tie a movie back to this amazing show, i’m going to take it)
Ok, enough about Mr. Gaiman. Coraline was a novella written in 2002 to generally good praise. The book (and the movie) focus on a young girl named Coraline, who moves into a multi-family home only to discover a secret doorway to another world exactly like hers, but with some minor tweaks. Instead of her parents being busy-bodies obsessed with work and have no time for her, they cater to her every whim. The neighbors are the best versions of themselves, or what they used to be or what they want to be. One minor difference with this “other” world is that everyone in it has buttons for eyes. Cause, you know, it needs to be creepy.
And creepy it is. The stop motion on this movie is morbidly beautiful, and the creepy vibe you get throughout the movie begins with the opening credits. It’s not scary in a horror movie way, but instead in a “you don’t know what’s going to happen next and did that really just happen” way. The “other” world at first seems perfect and wonderful, but there’s an atmosphere about it that makes the watcher realize that it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It was shot in such a way that we understand before Coraline does, even though the hints are there.
That’s who Coraline is. She’s a brave, independent little girl who lives for this world because it’s everything hers is not. Her parents are nice and pay attention to her. They play games, sing songs. Her neighbors aren’t creepy old fat has-beens, but instead they’re stage stars and trainers of circus mice. She’s sucked into this world, and I believe many children would be as well. THAT’S where the scariness of this movie comes from. All kids have been there. EVERYONE has been there. Everyone wishes they could change things about their parents, their friends, or people they’ve known. But should they?
That’s the lesson that Coraline learns in this movie: the people she has in her life may not be perfect, but they’re real and they’re hers, and they care about her, regardless of what she may think. She’s a typical kid, and they made her very believable. She’s a wonderful protagonist, and the movie is worth watching because of her. She’s strong-willed and speaks her mind, but has a kindness to her. You feel her pain dealing with her parents because they did make her parents very annoying. You want her to be happy. At first, she thinks the only way to be happy is to be in this “other” world.
All that changes when the “other” mother asks her to stay, and to do that must sew buttons in her eyes. All at once Coraline understands, and subsequent visits reveal the “other” world for what it is: an elaborate trap laid by the “other” mother to ensnare children much like a spider ensnares an insect. Now, her goal becomes not only escaping this place, but rescuing her real mother and father, who have been taken.
This movie has a wonderful plot, and the characters are even more so memorable, making it a bit win/win for me. I’ve already talked about Coraline and mentioned her annoying (but realistic) parents. Along with them are Coraline’s “friends,” an annoying boy named Wybie (short for Wyborn – yeah, that’s awesome humor), and a mangy old black cat that hangs around him. For the most part of the movie, Wybie actually annoys Coraline. He’s the grandson of the woman who owns the building, and isn’t allowed to set foot in it due to his grandmother’s crazy idea that it’s haunted (her sister was taken when they were kids from the house).
Wybie brings in most of the backstory for the house and we get the idea that this has happened before. He mentions that typically she doesn’t rent to families with kids. Why did she make an exception this time? It’s never answered, and that was something that annoyed me a bit. Did she think Coraline could get to the bottom of it?
Wybie was made up for the movie, and in all honesty I’d love to hear from someone who’s read the book as to how all this stuff moves along without him. I’m guessing it’s through the black cat, who has a small part in the movie but I’m guessing a bigger one in the book. This cat and Coraline don’t get off on the right foot and for half the time she wants nothing to do with him. However once she realizes that he can travel from their world to the “other” world and there he can talk, he becomes a source of information on who runs the show and what exactly she’s like. He’s been going there for years and acts as a mentor and friend to Coraline when she needs him the most.
I’m not going to give away the ending because like I said, this is a good enough movie that it’s worth at least a one time watch. Let’s just say it involves games, ghost children, and more insanely amazing stop motion graphics. Seriously. It’s so beautiful it’s hard to believe it’s not CGI.
My few qualms with this movie probably come from me never reading the book. Apart from the question I posed earlier about why the grandmother would NOW allow a family with children when she never did before, I only have little issues. I would have loved to get to know the “real” neighbors a bit more (we have 2 old stage performers and an overweight russian man who swears he can train jumping mice). I mean, I’m trying to do this without looking stuff up and I don’t even remember their names. They’re interesting and memorable, but a little more with them would have been nice.
My only other issue is the way that the movie ends. I won’t give away anything, I promise, but there’s a point where you think the movie has ended, but then it keeps going. The book apparently does the same thing, and I honestly don’t really understand why. Maybe it’s just to pound into everyone’s head that this creature from the “other” world is really gone and will never come back to haunt Coraline, but it just seemed unnecessary. It had a good ending then… just kept going….
To sum up, this movie is definitely worth a watch. It’s got the creepy morbid Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman vibe to it, so if you’re fans of that type of thing, this is going to be right up your ally. Again, I would not recommend this for children younger than 10 (although these days I’m learning kids go see lots of scary movies much younger… I’m trying to keep them kids). It is scary and the movie itself plays into things that are very real nightmares for kids. It would be best to wait until they can actually understand and appreciate what’s going on.
I give Coraline (2009) a 3.95 out of 5. Pretty good, but it does have some flaws and honestly these movies aren’t really my thing.
Next up: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)