Coraline (dir. Henry Selick, Laika, 2009)
I have always been very fond of Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I remember awaiting it eagerly and being totally psyched when my pre-order with Amazon brought it to my door a day or two before the official release. I remember the self-discipline I marshaled to prevent myself from reading it before I went on a roadtrip up the East coast (it was supposed to be my road reading).
I first read it in a hotel room somewhere between Savannah and Charleston. It took me only a couple of hours, and I was completely creeped out. I’ve gone back to it several times, and I’ve never failed to love it or find myself spooked. I even bought the graphic novel adaptation that P. Craig Russell did and, even though I didn’t like some of the ways Mr. Russell did things, I still found much to love.
She has to be led by the nose through the various challenges presented to her and she is saved on more than one occasion by a strange male sidekick completely fabricated for the film. He even saves her from the Other Mother’s right hand. And that? Is just wrong. (Side note: they didn’t have the line “the beldam swore by her good right hand, but she lied” in there. Criminal!)
Coraline is smart and clever. Her neighbors are oddball and there’s a creepy inverted world on the other side of a mysterious door. There are primordial rats who sing a terrifying song (we were here before you fell/ you will be here when we rise) and an Other Mother with shiny black buttons for eyes. There are Lovecraftian horrors lurking in dark spaces between realities.
So, of course, I was totally stoked to discover that Henry Selick of The Nightmare Before Christmas fame would be doing the Coraline film adaptation.
Well, I saw it on Sunday. And it is truly wonderful: the opening scene is one of the most fantastically creepy scenes I’ve seen in a film in quite some time. The opulent settings are absorbing, engaging, and delightful. The story is well-paced and the creepiness of the novel just saturates the films (sans Lovecraftian horrors, though, sadly). The cat? Perfect. The film is edgy and lush and eerie. I can’t wait to own it in Blu-ray.
But. You knew there was a but, didn’t you?
Somehow, my Coraline didn’t make it into the film. She’s there in name and she’s there in sass. But her cleverness has been lobotomized. She has to be led by the nose through the various challenges presented to her and she is saved on more than one occasion by a strange male sidekick completely fabricated for the film. He even saves her from the Other Mother’s right hand. And that? Is just wrong. (Side note: they didn’t have the line “the beldam swore by her good right hand, but she lied” in there. Criminal!)
A second issue I had with the film was that the rats were disguised as kangaroo mice for most of the film. One of my favorite bits of and, I feel, most indispensable to the creepiness of the Other House was that the rats’ true natures were never disguised. They were always evil, they always creeped Coraline out, and they always sang snatches of that terrifying song.
Thirdly, so my but’s are complete, I don’t like how her parents were made so utterly unsympathetic at the start of the film. I suppose they wanted to emphasize why the Other Mother & Co. would be so attractive to Coraline, but c’mon. Subtlety can be effective. Neil proves that in the novel.
Speaking of subtlety, they could have gone without the sudden spiderweb bit in the parlor scene at the end. Subtlety, subtlety, subtlety. Neil depicted the entire house as a web in the novel – that was the point. I think audiences can understand that without you having to throw it in our faces.
As a last note, by the way– “Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly.” Yes, it took until the film was over for me to think that. Heh.
But I kind of want an Other Coraline doll. Is that wrong?
I really like the film and I’m glad it got made. I hope it is popular so that more people will read the book and come to love the “real” story as much as I do. I can deal with the flaws as long as that’s the case.
This review was originally published at my blog on February 9, 2009, and you can visit the original post for any extant discussion there.