During my second or third year of university, Coraline was playing at our campus cinema. I say cinema. What I’m actually talking about is a lecture hall that had a huge projector in the back and really uncomfortable seats. Don’t get me wrong, it was really useful to have somewhere that showed films on campus but it was hardly a comfortable experience. But I still went with some of my flatmates. On the bus on the way home, we were sat in front of a group of people who’d also been there. One member of the group was loudly and confidently saying “you can tell it’s directed by Tim Burton. It was so similar to The Nightmare Before Christmas.” It certainly took all of my self-control to not turn around call him an idiot. I feel bad for Henry Selick. He’s been responsible for so many great films but he so rarely gets the credit. The fact that The Nightmare Before Christmas is also called Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is a bit crazy. I guess it was a marketing strategy and, if it was, it bloody worked. But it does mean Selick gets forgotten about.
After listening to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline on Sunday, I got a real urge to watch the film. Coraline is one of those fantastic adaptations that just worked on every level. It added to the story and made some changes, of course, but it all works. It helps that Gaiman provided the filmmakers with such an exciting world to work with. It gave director Henry Selick and co. the chance to really push the darker elements. Thanks to the use of stop motion animation is glorious. It gives the film a slightly nostalgic feel and really brings Gaiman’s story to life. Is it part of a nightmarish world? Yes but it’s so full of charm and joy that you’ll quickly forget that.
I can see that parents wouldn’t be too keen to let their children watch this film. It’s fucking creepy. The opening sequence still makes me feel uneasy. At its heart, Coraline is a horror film. It delights in the darkness at the heart of the tale and the animation is beautifully terrifying. But, let’s not forget, all of the best fairy tales have darkness at their core. The Brothers Grimm wrote some truly fucked up tales that have really stood the test of time. The way to counteract the dark side is to make sure you continue to show the magic of everyday life. The brightness that helps keep the bad things at bay. Coraline might be full of danger but it is jampacked with charm and love. It says a lot about humanity and the joy of childhood.
Coraline is the tale of a young girl triumphing over evil. She defeats an adult figure who is trying to destroy her family and trap her forever. Forget traumatising young viewers, this film should empower them. When Coraline and her family move to a new house, she discovers a secret door. It leads her to an alternative version of her apartment. In it are her Other Mother and Other Father. They are the fun and happy versions of her parents and they lavish Coraline with attention. Meaning the young girl goes back to visit a few times. Until she is given the chance to stay and realises that this dream world isn’t as wonderful as it looks. And when her parents go missing, Coraline is forced to confront a truly terrifying monster.
The most refreshing thing about Coraline is that it feels like the antithesis of most children’s animated films. We’re most likely to see something loud and brash. The kind of film that rushes towards the huge finale throwing silly jokes and sight gags in wherever possible. Coraline takes its time. It’s quiet and slowly builds the tension. It has a lot of fun building the two worlds and revealing the hidden secrets around the place. It also isn’t afraid to hang around danger and villainy for a while. It delights in taking a fantasy world full of colour and joy and turning it into an absolute nightmare. In fact, Henry Selick has a whale of a time in creating the Other world. He was born to direct this film.
Bookish people are so quick to dislike films based on their favourite books but Coraline does everything right. It is beautiful, creepy, and entertaining. It is sophisticated but will delight both adult and children who can bring themselves to watch it. We know that Selick is great at this kind of animation. The Nightmare Before Christmas is an almost perfect film but, in my opinion, Coraline trumps even that one.