Coraline – Hilleke’s humble opinion

Loved the book, liked the film.Mike and I were lucky enough to get tickets to a special preview screening of Coraline in 3D last Wednesday followed by a Q&A with director/script writer Henry Selick and author Neil Gaiman.

I put them in that order because I believe Coraline is really Henry Selick’s film. He has missed out on credit for some of his best creations (Nightmare before Christmas being the most notable one) and Neil Gaiman has made a conscious effort in all publicity relating to Coraline (the film) to fully credit Henry Selick for it’s creation, (to the point where a poorly researched review received the full might of the twitter-verse‘s mockery – and has since disappeared from the world wide web). And rightly so. The film took roughly 4 years to get to the screen and was painstakingly created by hand… every little detail.
Henry Selick explained that while they did use some CG to paint out wires etc. the vast majority of the film was made by hand (Official Coraline website really is worth seeing). I mention this because I have huge admiration for anyone with the patience required to work in stop-motion. I for one do not. But it is an art and Henry Selick is a genius at it. When watching the film it is impossible to see any seams, thumbprints or jerkiness. And all this in 3D. Coraline truly is a beautiful film.
But I haven’t yet mentioned the story. I’m going to cheat and paste an image from the website for the summary. They write it better than I can.
And now comes the crunch point. Did the film live up to the book? I loved the book. Yes, it is written for children and reads very much like a children’s novel. Much more so than the Harry Potter’s and Golden Compasses’ of children’s literature. It is a very simple and fairly short story. A there and back again adventure, if you will. And yes, it is quite scary. But Coraline has quite a bit of spunk (to use a word that suits her – not one I’d normally use) and you have faith in her even when she has no faith in herself.
So she gets bored of her parents, runs into the ‘other parents’ who on the surface seem much more fun and interesting, AND more importantly, attentive. But she remains suspicious and returns to her own world – remember this is in the book. In the film she succumbs to their charms more easily, a change possibly devised to keep the pace up, as it sadly lagging in the first 30 minutes. After the initial set up both book and film continue along the same lines, except for the addition in the film of the character, Wybie, a boy-next-door who accompanies/stalks Coraline and gives her someone to talk to. Wybie works great in the film, and this shows Henry Selicks genius in adapting the novel for the screen. Looking back, I don’t know how it would’ve worked without Wybie (short for Wybourne, or as Coraline calls him ‘Why-were-you-born’).
And the film does work. And I liked it. I really really wanted to like it, and I did. The 3D worked well and wasn’t over-used or gimmicky, the stop-motion animation was absolutely stunning and the details amazing, the story also worked well – the pace picked up after the first 30 minutes and continued along nicely, although I still think they could have tightened it just a fraction.
The pacing was clearly also an issue for Henry Selick. When asked what part of the novel he couldn’t include and regretted most, he mentioned a scene where Coraline recalls an incident with her father and a wasps nest. They had stumbled upon a wasps nest and the angered wasps were about to start chasing after Coraline and her father. Realising they couldn’t both get away unstung, her father told Coraline to run, remaining in the thick of the wasps to get stung himself so that she could get away. This touching little story really helps you to understand Coraline’s loyalty to her own parents, even though they are boring and busy, deep down she knows they love her in a way that the ‘other parents’ never will. It’s a key bit of motivation and story-telling which the film lacks.
And after this was pointed out to me, I realised that despite how beautiful the film was, I’ll always prefer the book.
My many rating systems:
If I rated films with little *’s: **** out of 5
Will I watch it again/buy it? Absolutely, and can’t wait til my niece is old enough to see it (She’s only 1 now, so it’s a wee wait!)
Watch this if you like: Good solid scary/fantasy kids films, like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (the child catcher) and creepy Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Just a little add-on: (found this on Neil Gaiman’s blog, quoting a Time Out New York review, quoting Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Seems quite necessary to add it.)

In Coraline’s epigraph, Gaiman quotes G.K. Chesterton on why we believe in fairy tales: “Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

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