Good Nightmare: CORALINE

By Jared M. Gordon

Coraline – 2009 – dir. Henry Selnick

“You probably think this world is a dream come true… but you’re wrong.”

From the minds of Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) and Neil Gaiman (Sandman, American Gods), with musical accompaniment by They Might Be Giants comes Coraline, a dark, enchanting fable about the worlds we see and the worlds we want.


Seeing what we have in a different way lies at the heart of not only this film, but every film.  Citizen Kane?  Of course Charles Kane wants money, power, and success.  But what does he really want, more than anything else?  What is Rosebud all about?  It’s not just a sled.

How about you?  What’s your Rosebud?  Or, in Coraline’s case, who is your family?  Where are you at home?  Is it a place?  A person?  A state of mind?

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The dissatisfied Coraline, living in a new home with imaginative, strangely endearing (emphasis on strange, though) neighbors, yearns for the greener grass on the other side of the fence.  The greener grass, in this case, is a relationship with her parents that includes reciprocal respect and attention.  Coraline’s hunger for validation leads her to a mysterious, colorful otherworld where she’s the star of the show.  The yin to her yang, this new place is multi-hued whereas her home world is drab.  Her otherworld parents are zany and creative, whereas her original parents are self-absorbed and distracted.  The cats even freakin’ talk here.  So what’s the problem?

The problem lies between experiencing reality and possessing it.  It’s not enough for Coraline’s other mother to make dinners and give singular attention to her “daughter.”  Coraline becomes a thing to be owned.  A thing to be devoured.  A thing to be played with, much like the strange doll at the film’s opening.  The other mother is a creature who is unfamiliar with sacrifice and therefore lacks compassion; she is a monster.  She’s less an opposite of Coraline’s own parents and more a distortion of what Coraline believes that she herself wants.

Despite the other mother’s desires, Coraline still has her head screwed on straight.  She never calls the other mother, “Mom,” intending it to be a transference of the title.  In fact, Coraline, while initially enamored with the other mother’s overtures and promises, frequently repeats, “You are NOT my mother.”  It’s not a new mother that Coraline wants.  It has been, and always will be, her own mother.  This is what the other mother cannot (and WILL not) understand.  This is why Coraline succeeds in her quest, and why she does not repeat the mistakes of those who came before.

Coraline is a visual masterpiece with a vivid (but not overused) color palette and unobtrusive score by Bruno Coulais (The Secret of Kells, Truands).  After nearly three years of production, Coraline appears to be not only well worth the wait, but well worth the effort it took to create it.  Currently the longest stop-motion film ever made, Coraline clocks in at 100 minutes, and is the first to be shot entirely in 3D.

Visually entertaining and well-written, Coraline is some darn good art, and a welcome switch from Dreamworks’s Crap Factory and even Disney’s hesitance to move to the darker side of things.

Be careful what you wish for…

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