I suppose I should start by specifying that this is not a review of the book Coraline or the graphic novel Coraline. Rather, it is a review of Coraline the 2009 animated movie adapted by director Henry Selick from Neil Gaiman’s original novel.
The first thing I have to say about Coraline is that I wouldn’t recommend it for very small children. Things get pretty intense at certain points. While I am not going to say keep kids away from the movie, I would advise you to take the PG rating very seriously. If I was a parent I would definitely view the movie first and then decide if my kids were ready for it.
Without getting too deeply into spoilers, Coraline and her parents recently moved into a new home. Well, new for them. The house itself is quite old and has quite a bit of history. None of this matters to Coraline, who misses her friends and is feeling uprooted. The situation is made worse by the fact that her parents are very busy with their jobs and getting situated after the move. As a result, Caroline feels somewhat neglected.
It is then that she discovers a locked door in the house that has been wallpapered over. Eventually, she finds that the door leads to another world. This world contains versions of her parents, called Other Mother and Other Father, who always cook homemade dinners and are attentive to her every need. It seems to good to be true, so I don’t think I am spoiling anything by saying that it is.
When asked what the message of Coraline is, Neil Gaiman said: "People who love [you] may not pay you all the attention you would like, and people who give you all the attention you would like may not have your best interests at heart."
Personally, this is one of the things I really liked about the movie. Many movies start out with distant workaholic parents who make a turnaround to become completely focused on their children. This is a lovely sentiment, but perhaps a bit unrealistic. In Coraline, the parents probably do need to spend a bit more time with their daughter, but it acknowledges that they still need to spend some time working to pay the bills too.
Incidentally, for those of you who care, the script is pretty close to Neil Gaiman’s original novel. One significant change is that it introduces an entirely new character named Wybie Lovat. According to interviews with both Henry Selick and Neil Gaiman this character was added because Coraline spends a lot of time alone with her thoughts in the novel. To translate this to film would require her either narrating the film or breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience.
Personally, I don’t find either of these alternatives a good fit for the story. So giving her someone to talk to was probably the best choice.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I enjoyed the movie a great deal. It has the feel of a dark fairy tale, probably more so than any recent film besides Pan's Labyrinth. However, I tend to go for that sort of thing anyway, so your mileage may vary.