Having read the book and watched the film, I can say with complete confidence that Coraline is absolutely frightening, but in a really fantastic way.
It’s a simple story about a girl who feels taken for granted and ignored by her parents. Everyone felt this way growing up, the only difference is Coraline gets the chance to exchange her neglectful parents for attentive ones who meet her every need.
Coraline is sad about having to leave her old home and her friends behind. She’s in a new place and feels alone, despite having met a cat and a boy who lives nearby named Wybie. Wybie wasn’t in the book, but he’s essential, Coraline needs a friend, other than the black cat who follows her.
Upon meeting Wybie, he remarks, “I’m surprised she let you move in, Grandma doesn’t rent to people with kids.”
Wybie’s grandmother once had a twin sister, but she mysteriously disappeared without a trace many years ago. So, we feel the mystery from the beginning. Why keep children out of the Pink Palace? And what happened to the twin sister.
Everything’s The Same, But Better
Then there’s the little door in Coraline’s apartment that’s been bricked up. She begs her mother to open the child-sized door only to find that it leads nowhere. But that night, magic appears. The door suddenly leads to a passage way. Led by brown mice, Coraline follows the magical passageway only to find that she’s still in the same apartment, but somehow, it’s different.
She meets the Other Mother, who seems like the most loving and caring mother anyone could ever ask for. She listens to Coraline and remembers the things she’s asked for. The Other Mother looks exactly like Coraline’s own mother, except she has buttons for eyes.
The world beyond the tiny door is exactly the same, but better.
We quickly learn that the fabulous and magical world of the Other Mother comes at a price. Coraline’s other parents tell her that if she wants to stay, she has to sew buttons on to her eyes, and then everything changes.
Her hesitancy to leave her family behind for the seemingly perfect world forces the Other Mother to show her real colors. She needs Coraline’s eyes to survive. She needs to eat up her soul.
You see, the Other Mother has done this before.
A Little Bit of Bravery
Coraline fights back and the Other Mother doesn’t like that. The children in the past were so much easier to manipulate, but Coraline has a modern-day spark that makes her harder to control.
With the help of the Other Wybie, Coraline is able to escape the clutches of the Other Mother, but when she gets home she finds her parents are stolen.
She has to summon every ounce of courage and wit she has to rescue her parents from an ancient creature that feeds off little children. If that isn’t a horrifying children’s tale, I don’t know what is.
But here’s the thing, Coraline is probably my favorite American animated film.
It gives you the chills watching it. You know from the jump something is wrong with the Other Mother, and we’re supposed to.
And Coraline is resilient. Sure, she gets scared, but she doesn’t give up, and she’s not easily fooled like the children before her. There’s something so satisfying about seeing a child overcome such frightening obstacles.
In the end, you have to wonder what happened to the Other Mother. Did she die without another child to eat, or was she able to survive? There was talk of another film, but it never came to fruition. I for one would have loved to have seen the story continue.
And I’d love to see even more animated films for children with just a little bit of a thrill.