Coraline – Be Careful What You Wish For

Neil Gaiman: Coraline (Bloomsbury, movie tie-in edition, 2009, ISBN: 9780747597308)Coraline is award-winning children horror fantasy novella written in 2002 by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean. It is dark yet magical fairy tale about a girl whose end of the summer in the new abode turned out to be everything but ordinary. That new abode was a flat in an old, nightmarish looking mansion, that once might have been a property of some E.M. Forster’s contemporaries (you know, those having tennis courts behind their houses), but now was in disrepair, possibly because of some dark secrets that little girl unwittingly uncovered.

Neil Gaiman: Coraline (HarperFestival, movie tie-in edition, 2008, ISBN: 9780061649691)New surroundings, feeling of loneliness with always busy work-at-home parents and utter boredom silently paved the way through the bricks behind the door Coraline’s mother unlocked at her insistence. First marveling at the discovery that the door actually leads to whole new world that is exactly the same as the one she inhabits, only improved – then wondering, are these changes really for better or rather for worse. Is really better to have everything you wish? Are people really better the way you wish they are? So, Coraline was tempted to embrace that alternate world, but found out that world isn’t near so cool as it seemed to be at first. Naturally bright, courageous and genuinely kind in heart, she has gone through a real adventure of a lifetime, saved a couple of lives along the way and acquired one particularly interesting friend and ally.

Neil Gaiman: Coraline (HarperEntertainment, movie tie-in edition, 2008, ISBN: 9780061649707)

In this story Neil Gaiman gently emphasizes eternal values every child (and grown-up person as well) should be aware of, without being not a least bit patronizing. At the same time, his readers are confronted with some terrifying images that are disturbing to children and to adults alike. Buttons instead of eyes, spidery hands, hallway walls slimy, soft and warm on touch, cocoons with some undefinable creatures — I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those descriptions have inspired also Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). Such imagery is part of our human nature (just think about how many times you have dreamed some extraordinarily weird dreams — you would know something was odd even if you couldn’t remember them afterwards!) so I do not think children would be much afraid of this story. Their imagination is more vivid and stronger than ours, burdened with everyday’s trivial worries. I dare to believe even that they would be grateful for such an offer. It would gratify their sense of self-worth if we would think them more mature and more valiant than their age shows, if we would approve them to read it. 

Coraline (2008) — The Film

Henry Selick already had some great experience with The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and with James and the Giant Peach (1996), so the stop-motion adaptation of this story should have been a piece of cake to him. He himself scripted the story and presented it to our theaters 2008. There were three principal posters (see book covers above) for the film – they all look great and appear aimed to different age groups, although I wonder, what was actually the target audience for this film.

Coraline - The Movie AlphabetThe animation was fascinating, and the soundtrack brilliant, but the story on screen was a lot creepier than expected. I did not feel comfortable even with the very first scene, of a rag doll getting full make over as if on surgery table. The story veered a bit from the original source – it was transferred from polite British countryside (remember E.M. Forster earlier?) to casual American (New England?) territory, which does not matter much, but the characters changed manners as well. Although in that new setting that change was curiously fitting, the characters weren’t so appealing as in original, though this might be simply due to my Old World upbringing. I felt also that the introduction to the story and its characters lasted too long. The real action started only after an hour or so… On the other hand, the thrill of suspicion, of a true nature of that alternate world, was suspended too early, so there is no much commitment required of the audience. One just has to passively watch Coraline unraveling the puzzle till the end. If this movie was aimed for older children, they might feel sort of disappointment, as they might need more than just to be mesmerized by beautiful animation, while the younger ones might be frightened out of their wits before Coraline would even utter a first word. Pity – considering The Nightmare Before Christmas, I expected the same charm and sparks, but that didn’t happen – it was more James and the Giant Peach repeat, in a sense it certainly was not suitable for every taste. For me there simply wasn’t magic on the screen, at least not the same I felt while reading the book. It was beautiful movie, undoubtedly, but my heart was not with it.

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5 thoughts on “Coraline – Be Careful What You Wish For

  1. Not having seen the film, I was happy to get a reference to pan’s labyrinth which was harsher than I thought it would be and it’s an interesting link you make between the two.

    I wasn’t overly impressed with the Coraline, it was a decent read but having read gaiman’s Sandman series that was more cerebral and this was to light compared to that but i do have another Gaiman book to get my teeth into at some point. Nicely reviewed.

    • Thanks! I’ve read Sandman series (loved it by the way), and yeah, Coraline is too light in comparison. But as it is aimed at children (older I would say), it is understandable. Language is different, it seems even that the wording suits reading out loud. Didn’t try it though :) Stardust on the other hand goes light in the other direction! I am currently on to the other stories in the collection (previously published in M is for Magic) – tone differs a lot in each and that’s what I like in Gaiman, his stories take sometimes quite surprising turns. I still have to get ahold of those more “serious” works of his, you know, American Gods, Anansi Boys etc. Have them all on the shelf, but no time… Although I would like to read Neverwhere as soon as possible, as I have seen the series. It was quite awesome, have you seen it?

  2. I haven’t seen it, in fact didn’t know it was a series, however I do own the book, so shall read that when you do so we can compare and contrast together, which is always a fun thing to do.

    I enjoyed Stardust the film, only afterwards did i find out it was a book, he has written some episodes of Doctor Who as well, if that is your thing?

    You’re right Sandman is a totally different beast, so epic in many ways, the Shakespeare short story was just the bestest thing ever!

    • I loved Sandman’s Midsummer’s Night Dream too (if you think of that one :) That one was really special!
      As for Doctor Who, I fear I haven’t seen a single episode, although I’ve heard of it. I didn’t know Gaiman did some stuff there too. Well, that’s not really surprising, he seems so versatile, omniscient in everything :)

      • Yeah he really does seem to be able to turn his hand to any type of writing. His Who stuff is good, different from his other works but fun.

        The Midsummer Night’s Dream short story won an award in America, I forget which one…then the organisers banned graphic novel work from the entering. Shame that, very short sighted.

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