Coraline is the dark fantasy novella written by Neil Gaiman, published in 2002 for kids made into a stop motion animation film in 2009 by Laika studios, directed by Henry Selick. Well, let me tell you, this is indeed a children’s film – for all ages. It’ll put the hairs on adults skin when they really consider the consequences of this disturbed world.
Coraline and her parents move to a Victorian-esque house; The Pink Palace that has been divided into apartments. She is painfully bored and constantly seeks attention from her parents who are busy working and have no time for her. Her incessant nature comes across as petulant and a little brat-ish in the film, whereas the novella portrays a more polite young girl. Desperately seeking an extraordinary adventure. Coraline finds just that…and way more, behind a small, locked door. This passageway leads to her ‘other’ world, a mirrored version of her reality, but something is little off.
The passage itself imitates a womb, or a sack (which is interesting considering the ‘other mother’s true form later on 😉
Once Coraline goes through this passage, she finds her ‘other’ parents, but…they have buttons in place of their eyes. Its humoring to see Coraline digesting the pieces of this bizarre puzzle. She’s a little perplexed by the buttons, she tentatively buys this ‘other mother/father’ thing, but mostly she laps up the advantages of this opposite world. The dissatisfaction she feels in her real world is replaced with everything she could wish for, until she finds out what the catch is.
Her real mother doesn’t cook, won’t cook – her other mother provides almost gourmet food and treats, but most of all…choice. In this other world Coraline gets all the attention she craved in her reality, it takes her a while to realize the attention is disguised as genuine, later revealed to have devilish intent.
The story uniquely interprets the horror trope of ‘otherness’ and parental ambiguities, especially mothers. Consider the mother in Hitchcock’s 1960 infamous thriller; Psycho. Mrs Bates is portrayed as the creepy skeletal lady in the basement who incites fear, when in actuality it’s Norman Bates who has created this image of horror in trying to immortalize his mother out of guilt from murdering her. She is not the typical image of a mother, therefore ‘other’ and this is what scares us.
Even though Norman dresses her in stereotypical ‘mumsy’ clothing – she is…other. Something that both resembles the nostalgic, peaceful feeling of a mother, but whose image is skewed with transgression This duality that is so often exploited in horror is delivered so well in animation. The stylistic qualities of animation are so often created for children, but with Coraline its amazing to see how the horror works undercover for small children and so painfully obvious to an older audience.
Some of my favourite maternal villains:
In Coraline, a very mundane version of a mother is portrayed as well as an evil version, that utilises the traditional maternal qualities to manipulate for her own gain. What makes good horror is when the ‘otherness’ is disguised through illusion and is gradually revealed. Coraline is such a great example of this. The Other mother had three forms.
Stop motion animation was the perfect was the to go with this literary adaptation as it’s ability to display innocence, as well as horror, is so uniquely compelling.
The story invites many discussions on gender and identity. The menace of the story is the Other Mother, who transforms into a skeletal spider form that collects the souls of children through their eyes, or something like that. But around this overarching threat, gender stereotypes are subtly exploited throughout . Coraline’s real mother calls the shots, wears the trousers if you will. She’s mostly irked by Coraline and shoots down fun as it arises. Her father is the passive role model, who almost seems as if he were once a bright star now dimmed, over time. Therefore the connecting force in all timelines and version of Coraline’s world is Matriarchy as a powerful and somewhat destructive force.
Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien explored a similar theme, dealing with the ethics of mother nature and how maternally instinctual behavior can be so forceful to the detriment of the weak or unowned.
The character Wybie is an added character for the film only, an addition to the topic of gender but irrelevant to Coraline’s literary journey. It’s a bit annoying that Wybie is instrumental in ‘saving the day’ in the film, but I do feel sympathy when the Other Mother sews his mouth into a grin, that’s going a bit far. It’s a twisted way of going about telling someone to shut up when you don’t want to hear what they have to say. And that is a valuable lesson for Coraline. For, as much as she wishes her parents were different and paid her more attention, the other mother transgresses boundaries and understood morals of society. Coraline’s real mother refuses to play in the rain or dirt with her, the Other Mother suggests playing hide and seek in the rain late at night after dinner. The other world is a type of sin city, a place where the possibilities of fun and freedom are endless, but this anarchic level of fun does not work well or last very long – after a while, children seek the thrill of forbidden fun. We see this when Coraline doesn’t accept this offer to play outside and opts for an early night and goes to bed.
In other words, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side – or – ‘the grass may be greener, but in it may lurk an evil version of your mother’… hmm, not so catchy.
There are many theories on Coraline’s story and its weird and wonderful characters that I would recommend delving into. But everyone, no matter what age, can enjoy this creepy story of a girl’s childhood.
And with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders eccentrically voicing the characters of the two ‘retired’ actresses that live in the Pink Palace, who wouldn’t want to experience that vaudeville aspect? I realize this sounds sarcastic, I think it is (they’re a bit OTT) but mildly funny.
Check out the @eyelyd2020 on Instagram to see me transform into a different film character each week of October .