HiH cinema review: Coraline

“You probably think this world is a dream come true…”
Cat, from Coraline

Alice discovers Wonderland. Pinocchio travels to the island where all naughty little boys have fun (until nightfall.) Dorothy is carried to Oz, Thomas More finds Utopia, and Gulliver wishes he had never left the land of the Houyhnhnms.

Coraline discovers a tunnel in her apartment that leads to her Other Mother’s world: her perfect world. There live her Other Mother and Other Father, a smiling family apparently fresh from Stepford, a lovely room of her own with every imaginable (and unimaginable) toy, a garden of dancing flowers, and friends and neighbors who live with no other purpose than to entertain her. Only one other person, besides a few smart mice, can travel as Coraline does, and that is the Cat. Other Mother does not like Cats, who have magical qualities no matter which world they are in, and who, in Other Mother’s world, can speak…

One other thing is odd in Other Mother’s world: all the people, animals, and toys, except Coraline and Cat, have shiny black buttons sewn where their eyes should be.

It won’t spoil anything to say that Coraline’s magical perfect world, like Oz or Wonderland, casts a dark shadow. The more Coraline crawls through the tunnel, the drabber and more alienated her apartment and parents seem (and they were pretty alienated to start with!). But the more she visits, the less perfect things in the Other Mother’s world seem, until the night when she tries to get back to her world… and she can’t.

Anyone familiar with Stardust has already encountered Neil Gaiman’s wonderful twists on fairy tales. Coraline by Neil Gaiman is more a children’s story than Stardust, since the heroine is no more than thirteen; however, I am quite certain that if I had seen this movie even as a young elementary student, I would have had trouble sleeping that night. And perhaps a good many nights to come after it. As other reviewers have noted, it is not the violence or blood or gore (this is not an animated Sweeney Todd or anything like.) The stop action animation is exciting and effective, a worthy addition to the line of such movies as Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. However, it is the successor of those movies in theme also — Coraline‘s insidious shift from apparent beauty and perfection to increasing not-quite-rightness will get inside the imagination… and stay there.

I am sure that more than one kid going home from this movie would climb under his or her bed if Mom greeted her beloved child at the kitchen door with a wide smile and a plate of baked chicken. 3D, while cool, won’t alter the fact that some parents will want to either sit in with the kids for this one or simply wait until it’s out on DVD and preview it first. (The retired burlesque actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible–how did they manage to change from the book’s simple Shakespearean actresses into these scantily-clad horrors?!?–may be another sticking point for parents.) However, for older audiences? Guaranteed, Coraline merchandise will be the next big thing at Hot Topic.