Having read quite a few of Neil Gaiman’s books as a child, there has always been something so fulfilling about seeing his wacky creations being brought to life on the big screen. No doubt one of the famous of them is Coraline, an animated fantasy horror film directed by Henry Selick, released in 2009 and based off of Gaiman’s novella of the same name. It revolves around an eleven year old girl who moves into a new house with her parents and discovers a secret door to a parallel world that, although initially seems like a utopian version of her real life, turns out to be a lot darker than anticipated. The façade of the ‘other’ world created by Coraline’s ‘other’ mother, who at first promises her all of the riches in the world, slowly falls apart and Coraline eventually realises that no matter how mundane and imperfect her normal life is, it is one she should learn to appreciate. And yes, it is that film with the buttons for eyes.
Coraline as a character is someone who many of us can relate to. She is curious, stubborn and lonely, not overly heroic and definitely annoying and childish. But she also has a sense of naïve bravery and courage that many children possess. The film touches upon themes of reality and identity, home and family, and in this vain, Selick perfectly utilizes everyone’s childhood fears: losing your parents, being left home alone, and, of course, being kidnapped by monsters.
Selick’s signature style is distinctly noticeable – if you’ve seen his classic The Nightmare before Christmas, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. However, Coraline is in its own complete world, set apart from Tim Burton's style and influence which was ever-present in the former. Selick aimed for Coraline to be more unique and reflect his own aesthetic, and in a time when CGI films were becoming the norm and stop motion was slowly dying out, Selick’s decision to choose the latter is truly intriguing. But Coraline being a stop motion film is exactly what makes it work so well: actions are jagged, characters’ proportions aren’t quite right, and it feels a little jolty in places. This works brilliantly in Coraline’s favour as it conveys an uneasy feeling throughout. In an interview with Focus Features, Selick explains that his use of stop motion “takes a little bit of an edge off the darkest, most troubling parts of the story” and “adds a little creepiness to parts that might be too sweet” – the perfect combination for a film that aims to reach a wider audience.
It is therefore no wonder that Coraline was nominated for an Academy Award, a BAFTA, and a Golden Globe, all for Best Animated Feature. Coraline to me is in its own category of film. No other children’s film is quite so fantastically dark that viewers of all ages can watch it and be simultaneously fascinated and horrified by it. As a stop motion feature that covers the dark fantasy genre in its own, unsettling way, Coraline stands alone as a cult film. Selick perfectly toes the line between a children’s fantasy adventure film and outright horror. In addition, by deliberately avoiding the current movie trends, Selick was able to create a timeless classic, all whilst staying true to Gaiman’s brilliant source material. There’s definitely a clear adherence to traditional, more gruesome fairy tales, such as the Grimm Tales, as opposed to what is considered ‘normal’ entertainment for children in today’s world, notably Disney or Pixar, and this is what makes Coraline work so well with audiences. It is different, it is dark. But refreshingly so.
Edited by Juliette Howard, Film Editor