Directed by: Henry Selick
Written by: Henry Selick
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Ian McShane
“The grass is always greener on the other side” gets used so often because the saying carries plenty of resonance with different circumstances not always being better. Children find themselves in this position all of the time where they see something from the outside looking more appealing than their current situation and they wish they could be in that position. Heck, I even felt that jealousy with my cousins but time has shown every unit has its own problems. Coraline takes this idea and applies it in such a horrifying and imaginative way.
Coraline (Dakota Fanning) and her family have moved to a former mansion, which now serves as apartments for tenants. The young girl is not pleased with this new environment and she feels her parents do not truly care for her. She then finds a secret doorway taking her to an alternate world where her parents exude more warmth but everyone has buttons for eyes. While this alternate world has the perks she desires from her parents, things begin to get sinister.
Stop-motion animation has always received my admiration because of the painstaking work that goes into making just a short film. Making a 100-minute feature should be considered a miracle and the story tagged along with it displays such a beautiful combination to tell such a universal story. The theme running through it is useful to anyone because people of all ages can fall into the trap of thinking other situations are better than their current set up. The whole “Keeping up with the Joneses” and rampant envy people have to fight off gets shown through the perspective of a young girl in the film, whereas creepy as the circumstances of this alternate reality may be, the extrinsic value becomes worth it. In this alternate world, her mother makes breakfast the young girl actually enjoys such as omelets and bacon, but as the plot develops this world proves to be manipulated in an evil manner. Honestly, the button eyes should have been enough to give it away.
This plays into the horror elements of Coraline. With it being animation and following an eleven-year-old, thinking this would be geared towards children makes sense, but some elements of this story caused a few double takes. The button eyes on these alternate-world characters looks terrifying, especially when the first character displays them. This horror resonates so well because of the importance eyes have in general human connection. With the common saying of the “eyes being the window of the soul,” having these elseworld characters have nothing but black plastic in place of eyes makes them instantaneously unsettling. That’s all before they start doing very creepy things, which begin the downward descent to unraveling the true horrors Coraline has found herself in.
Even with me personally being fairly reticent to show this movie to a young child, it still has value in teaching its valuable lesson. Coraline is only eleven so her selfishness fits right along with her development, where the smallest things can make a large difference as to what she values. Her real parents may not provide the perfect lifestyle for her with all the care she could ask for, but at least they are not grooming her to be consumed later on. Kids can learn from it with parents not being perfect, but their love remains unconditional.
As a Laika production, the expectation for excellent stop-motion animation shouldn’t be taken for granted as the aesthetic really create such an equally vibrant and spooky world. Each of the characters have their own unique design, which makes them stand out amongst the rest in an imaginative manner. The best of the designs proves to be the Beldam as it shifts into its final form to fully terrify Coraline. A combination of the soothing voice of a caring mother and the figure of a truly horrifying monster really gets at the heart of what the story wants to communicate. The design is gnarly and will provide shivers to even the most ardent horror fans and would certainly scare the life out of children.
Coraline proves to be a completely immersive and engaging feature film, which uses its animation style to fully give texture to a lesson people have to continually learn. Everything from the outside will look better than your current situation beause all of the details are available in one and not the other. Be wary of showing it to kids at young ages, but it sure nails so much of what it wants to achieve and introduces such a likable and relatable protagonist to get behind.