Coraline: a side-by-side review
The blurb on the front of my copy says, "One of the most frightening books ever written -- New York Times Book Review," and they are not kidding. It's the insidious kind of frightening that sneaks up on you while you're not paying attention, too. The first 1/3 to 1/2 of the book is pretty safe, and then things get REALLY weird, REALLY fast. It's a great book, and though it's classified as a Young Adult book, it's not really for the sensitive kids.
To briefly summarize, Coraline Jones -- age eleven -- gets bored with her somewhat boring, distant parents, and goes exploring in and around the house where her family has just rented a flat. A door in the formal parlor opens onto a brick wall...at least until later that night, when a skittering noise draws Coraline out of her bedroom. The passageway that is revealed leads Coraline to another flat, almost identical to hers, where her Other Mother and Other Father offer her everything her real parents do not, from attention to non-experimental food to sentient toys. But there's a small problem in this other world. First, everyone has shiny black buttons instead of eyes, and second, the Other Mother is awfully, awfully clingy.
When she escapes the Other Mother's clutches only to find that her real parents have been locked away, Coraline must venture once more into the Other Mother's world, to rescue her parents and other children that the Other Mother captured. To say she does so with courage and wits would be to sell her a bit short -- Coraline is a kickass heroine. And just when you think it's over, Gaiman has another twist for you. But never fear, it all ends well. Don't take my word for it, though. Go out and find a copy of Coraline and read it for yourself. I don't think you'll regret it.
Now, for the film. I've been looking forward to it since first hearing about it on Neil Gaiman's blog about a year ago. Knowing that it was directed by Henry Selick, who directed my beloved Nightmare Before Christmas, made me even more impatient. Coraline was well worth the wait. It was designed to be shown in 3D, but don't worry -- the 3D effect just makes the grace of Selick's stop-motion even more evident, and gives the film amazing depth and richness. I only remember one moment where I thought, "Now you're just showing off," and it was in the intro sequence. For the rest of the film, it didn't draw attention away from the animation at all.
The stop-motion itself is jaw-dropping. I can't even describe how fluid it is, other than to say there were scenes that made me doubt it was actually entirely stop-motion, because it was almost too good. A standout for me was the performance given by the trained mice in the Other world, which was, no exaggeration, absolutely exquisite. Oh, and the scene when Coraline and the cat wander out beyond the boundaries of the Other Mother's world is perfection. The soundtrack is lovely and perfectly suited to the film, the scenes and sets are fantastic, and all the details are looked after with care. In my opinion, Coraline is an absolute must-see.
Since this is a film based on a book, I feel like I should address the whole chicken / egg question. I read (and re-read) the book first, and I was able to enjoy the film even though there were a few significant changes. The film is strong and would easily stand alone if you haven't read the book, so if you're a purist and / or you get easily distracted by book / film discrepancies, I'd recommend watching the film first. Enjoy the animation and the awesomeness, and then go read the book. I'll talk a little about the changes below, but be warned:  there are going to be some semi-spoilers.
**ALERT: SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT**
**SERIOUSLY, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. IF YOU GO FURTHER AND ARE DISAPPOINTED, YOU HAVE NO ONE BUT YOURSELF TO BLAME.**
Most of the changes that were made appeared to be for pacing / flow purposes. In the book, the story is told from Coraline's point of view, so we read what she thinks and how she feels. Since it's hard to convey these things on film without a narrator, the fact that Coraline is not as hesitant to accept the Other Mother's attentions at first made sense. The addition of the Coraline spy doll was a little extraneous, though it didn't detract from the story. The addition of the gorgeous garden that the Other Father tended was lovely, and I actually liked it a lot. Changes made to the Other Mother's appearance were actually pretty cool, even though they differ somewhat strongly from the book in a significant way.
The only major thing that bothered me was the addition of a friend for Coraline. In the book, her only sidekick is the black cat, who can talk in the Other world but not in the regular one. In the film, she is given a neighborhood boy for a friend. He's fine as a character, and pleasantly animated, but I take issue with the fact that yet again a strong, independent female character is given a male sidekick. Wybie (as the boy is called) doesn't exactly swoop in to save the day, but as my mom pointed out, Coraline did just fine without him in the book. I read online that he was added to avoid scenes of Coraline walking around talking to herself, but I feel like they could've easily just had her talk to the cat. Or heck, the doll. I just wish they had let the girl handle 100% of the ass kicking, just like Gaiman wrote her to do.
That said, I still think Coraline is a fantastic film and a fantastic story. Go see it! And then read it! And then come back and let me know what you think.
Labels: Neil Gaiman