Origin: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Summary: An adventurous girl finds another world that is a strangely idealized version of her frustrating home, but it has sinister secrets. -

Length: 96 minutes
Rating: PG
Date of Original Release: 2009

Director: Henry Selick
Writers: Neil Gaiman; Henry Selick
Art Director: Phil Brotherton, Lee Bo Henry, Tom Proost; cinematography by Pete Kozachik (director of photography)
Music: Bruno Coulais

CORALINE – Dakota Fanning
WYBIE –Robert Daily Jr.
CAT – Keith David
MR. BOBINSKY – Ian McShane
MISS SPINK – Jennifer Saunders

Plot & Commentary
I will readily admit to being a purist when it comes to book-to-film adaptations. I have yet to see a Pride & Prejudice adaptation that does Lizzie Bennett justice or a Robin Hood retelling that pleases me. The Narnia films—RAGE does not cover it. It took me a long time to forgive the makers of the Harry Potter movies. I’m a big Neil Gaiman fan and when I heard they were making this little book into a movie, I was, in a word, nervous. However, the final product was a pleasant surprise. I specifically re-read this book before re-watching this movie, and I expect a lot of my commentary will be a compare-and-contrast between the strengths and weaknesses of both—just wanted to alert everyone before we get started.

We open our story with voiceover children singing a creepy song and a doll floating through a window to be caught by spidery metal hands that make me think of umbrella spokes. The hands take apart the doll piece by piece—clothes, hair, button eyes, stuffing—and remake it with all new materials. When finished, it is set free to float back out the window.

On the roof of a pink Victorian house, a large man is doing squats. It’s an overcast day and it looks cold outside, with mist and pine trees surrounding the house. A moving van pulls up and items are unloaded. A black cat watches the van pull away as a girl walks onto the back porch. She’s young, perhaps twelve, with short blue hair and wearing a raincoat—and she looks just like the doll we just saw float back out of the mystery window.

She goes exploring in the grounds around the house. She makes a dowsing rod and goes for a stroll through the garden and up to the rocky hillside. The cat follows, and sends a small avalanche of rocks toppling to her feet. When she throws a rock back at the invisible disturbance, the cat yowls and frightens the girl, who takes off at a run. She sprints straight into the center of a circle of mushrooms, which most people call a fairy ring and so immediately makes me nervous. The cat hops onto a nearby tree stump and makes the girl squawk. I really like Coraline’s (the girl is clearly Coraline) fluorescent blue hair. She informs the cat that she’s looking for an old well. The cat fails to inform her where the well is because it’s a non-speaking animal. Coraline, who seems to expect an actual vocal answer, narrows her eyes and returns to her search. “Magic dowser, magic dowser, show me… the well!”
On the hill above her, an air horn goes off. A person wearing a weird mask shoots down the hill on a bike, which Coraline watches in alarm and then annoyance. She swings at them with her dowser as they fly past her: “Get AWAY from me!” I’m liking this girl more and more. Under the weird mask and getup is a black boy her age—I wish they had given him fire engine red hair, as a contrast to her—and he examines her stick; he doesn’t understand the logic behind water-witching.
“It’s a dowsing rod!” She grabs the stick and smacks him. “And I don’t like being stalked! Not by psycho nerds—or their cats!” The psycho nerd informs her that the cat is feral. Coraline cocks her head sideways so that it’s completely horizontal. This is a move that she’ll repeat many times in this movie and it makes me smile every time. Girl already has a big personality.
We learn from the psycho nerd that his grandmother owns the pink house and usually won’t rent to people with kids. Also, the well she’s searching for is boarded up beneath the mud inside the circle of the fairy ring. Wybie—short for Wyborn—says that ordinary names like Caroline tend to lead others to have ordinary expectations of them. Coraline’s already annoyed with the kid, and this only feeds her irritation. I sympathize. I don’t like Surprise Neighbor Boy either; he was NOT in the book. Thankfully, someone starts hollering for him. He goes momentarily deaf. “Oh, I definitely heard something, Why Were You Born,” says our girl. “Good to meet a Michigan water witch,” he says, informs her that her dowsing rod is poison oak, and rolls off down the hill. I really like Coraline’s striped leggings.
She goes to the well and drops a pebble through a knothole. It takes a while to hit the water. While she waits for the sound, it starts to rain.

Coraline watches the rain from her kitchen window. She scratches the rash on her hands and props up seed packets against the windowpane. Behind her, her mother is typing at the table.
          CORALINE: I almost fell down a well yesterday, Mom.
          MRS. JONES: Uh-huh.
          CORALINE: I would have died.
          MRS. JONES: That’s nice.
Mrs. Jones is wearing a neck brace and has bags under her eyes. Coraline wants to go outside to start gardening. Seriously? Her mother isn’t going for it—not because her lone offspring will contract hypothermia which will develop into pneumonia… no, because said lone offspring will drag mud into the house.
          CORALINE: I can’t believe it. You and dad get paid to write about plants… and you hate dirt.
          MRS. JONES: Coraline—I don’t have time for you right now.
Mrs. Jones tells her daughter to finish unpacking. Coraline is a bit of a brat to her mother, who either ignores the attitude or is one of those parents who allows their child to talk back without consequences, thereby causing the rest of their life’s interactions with other people to be one huge consequence. She hands her daughter a package Wybie left on the porch. It’s the mystery window doll. “Huh. A little me? That’s weird.” NO KIDDING. Let’s all take a moment to ask ourselves one of the great questions of life: what would I do if some random kid found a random doll in a random trunk at a random house and it looked JUST LIKE ME? Coraline, for her part, would be delighted. From now on the creepy Coraline miniature will be referred to here as Creeper Coraline.
*Those of you who have read the novel know that there is no creeper doll in it. I think a lot of movie additions are invented in order to answer questions or supply movement from Event A to Event B that for one reason or another isn’t necessary in the book. If the invention is done well it fits into the story seamlessly. If it’s not, it is glaringly obvious and irritating, one of the things that get people like me all worked up. The doll, I feel, works. It allows the characters to learn things about each other and without it there would have been a lot of big plot holes in the film. In the book this is not an issue, because it’s a Neil Gaiman book and it can do what it wants, and the focus is less on the Whys and Hows and more on the Whats and Whos. Reading it doesn’t bring up the immediate questions that watching does. But I digress.

In a room stacked floor-to-ceiling with boxes, Coraline’s dad is typing on a computer older than my grandfather. “Hello, Coraline, and… Coraline doll.” He doesn’t react to it either. What is wrong with these people? She’s looking for the garden tools.
          MR. JONES: What’s the boss say?
          MR. JONES: Well, then you won’t need the tools.
Coraline goes drama queen and heaves a sigh that nearly leaves her in a pile on the floor. Then she starts swinging on the squeaky door. This understandably puts her father’s nerves in a knot, but I can’t help feeling sorry for her. She just wants a little attention from the only two people she knows in a whole new state and neighborhood. I know there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, but these two are kind of failing their daughter at the moment. Which, of course, is part of the premise of the story and I’ll wait a while to comment more on it. Mr. Jones sends Coraline off to explore the house, which is actually a pretty good idea. So far Papa Jones is getting more parent points from me than Mama.

The house-exploring sequence is as follows: she’s nearly conquered by the bump in the hall rug; the windows drip on her notepad; there are bugs all over the shower stall—which she smashes with her hands; she turns on the faucet to wash off the orange guts and instead the showerhead turns on and douses her (BEEN THERE); she accidentally shuts off the electricity and causes her father to lose all his work—an anguished cry echoes through the house (BEEN THERE). Also of note: she’s dragging Creeper Coraline around with her the whole time.

She wanders into the gray living room and starts putting her mother’s snow globes on the fireplace mantel, adding “one boring blue boy in a painfully boring painting” to her house inventory list before turning to pick up Creeper Coraline, which she put on the table. Only the doll isn’t there.
She finds it in a corner by a box. Behind the box is a small door that’s been wallpapered over. It immediately and wholly absorbs Coraline’s attention, which is why she doesn’t question Creeper Coraline’s knack for independent movement. She calls her still-typing, too-busy mother (who has a mug that says I Heart Mulch—can I have one?) and the squeaky wheel gets the oil with a “Will you stop pestering me if I do this for you,” at which Mrs. Jones goes to a kitchen drawer and pulls out a black key with a button-shaped end. She slices through the wallpaper and opens it while the rest of us scream IT’S A TRAP!!! but the door only leads to a wall of bricks. Having given Coraline her daily dose of attention, Mrs. Jones stomps back to the kitchen. Coraline reminds her that she didn’t lock the door and she yells in frustration.

Suppertime, and it’s a truly disgusting Calvin’s imagination come to life mess. Creeper Coraline has her own chair. The doll is really cute, and it makes me sad that she’s an evil tool.
          CORALINE: Ugh. Why don’t you ever cook, Mom?
          MRS. JONES: Coraline, we’ve been through this before. Your dad cooks, I clean, and
          you stay out of the way. I swear, I’ll go food shopping soon as we finish the catalog. Try
          some of the chard. You need a vegetable.
          CORALINE: Looks more like slime to me.
          MR. JONES: Well, it’s slime or bedtime, fusspot. Now, what’s it gonna be?
          CORALINE: Think they’re trying to poison me? [she makes the doll nod]
I like Mr. Jones. He’s pretty gentle, and manages to get his point made a bit more lovingly. I think they’re overdoing it with Mrs.—she’s busy and preoccupied, and I get the crabbiness and the stress of a move and hurting her neck and trying to meet a deadline, but I don’t think anyone walks around in such a constant state of impatience with their daughter. She takes every chance she’s given to remind Coraline that she’s in the way. Come on!

The fusspot goes to bed and falls asleep with a promptness that I envy. A weird squeaking sound begins, and some weird paper mice shoot out of the brick wall behind the hidden door. A mouse under Coraline’s bed wakes her and she chases it downstairs. It wiggles through the cracked-open mystery door. She jerks it open and is surprised to find the brick wall gone and a purply-blue tunnel in its place. Without a second thought, because she’s Coraline, she crawls through the tunnel to the door on the other end.

She emerges… in her own living room. “HUH?” This time the blue boy in the painting, who earlier could be seen crying over dropping his entire ice cream cone on the ground, is now thrilled with his triple stack. Someone is singing in another room. Coraline follows the sound and smell into the kitchen, which is brightly lit and beautifully decorated. A woman turns around. She looks just like Mrs. Jones, only sans neck brace and plus red lipstick and BLACK BUTTON EYES which creep out Coraline and everyone watching this movie, including those who only saw the trailer. “You’re not my mother!” She picked up on that pretty quick. The woman smiles and tells her, “I’m your other mother, silly. Now tell your other father that supper is ready.”
Coraline squints suspiciously but obeys. In another brightly colored room is a man who looks like Mr. Jones and also has black button eyes. In place of his computer is a baby grand. “My father can’t play piano,” she snots. Oh, that’s an easy fix. Gloves on metal rods shoot out of the piano and his hands are controlled by them as he sings a happy little song about her.
Making up a song about Corrrraline
She’s a peach, she’s a doll, she’s a pal of mine
She’s as cute as a button in the eyes of
Everyone who ever laid their eyes on
When she comes around exploring
Mom and I will never ever make it boring
Our eyes will be on Coraline

The dining room table is laden with food. After saying grace (which, in retrospect, is unsettling) the other father and Coraline tuck in. The other mother watches her with a smile. She does not eat. A toy train carries gravy to Coraline. The chandelier descends and Coraline pours herself a mango milkshake from it. The other mother replaces Coraline’s full plate with a huge cake. Everything that could possibly make this meal attractive and enjoyable is present—parental affection and attention included. Candles spring out of the cake and it writes Welcome home! on itself. Coraline looks confused. “Home?” They’ve been waiting for her, they tell her. “And as soon as you’re through eating I thought we’d play a game!” the other mother says. She smiles, but her fingernails are drumming on the table, a detail that does not escape our heroine. The other mother suggests hide and seek—in the rain! Oh, look at them, just look at them, using everything that’s been going wrong in her life lately. What about the mud? Oh, they love mud here. “It’s great for poison oak.” That comment throws Coraline, and all the work they’ve done to make her feel comfortable flies out the window. She doesn’t like the idea that they know the details of her life any more than you or I would. “I think I’d better get home to my other mother… Mom number one.” She bumps into the other father, who says “Ha-hoo!” and waves, and I laugh and laugh and laugh. Coraline: “I think I better get to bed.” They lead her not to the tunnel but upstairs to her other bedroom. It’s beautifully decorated, of course, and she gasps in delight. Dragonflies flutter around the room and greet her in tiny voices. All of the toys are alive and can talk. The other mother spreads mud on Coraline’s palm. Girl is out like a light and they sing a creepy “See you sooooon!” at her.

Coraline wakes up in her own room: empty, plain, and dreary. The creeper is still sitting in the chair where she was left the night before and where, interestingly, we last saw the other mother. The rash on Coraline’s palm is gone, a welcome and quickly forgotten fact. At the breakfast table she tells her mother about the dream, who suggests she tell it to the dingbat actresses who live downstairs. Real mother and real father don’t get along as amicably as the fakes—of course.

The yaller raincoat returns. Coraline heads out the front door and trips over packages of cheeses addressed to the upstairs neighbor, Mr. Bobinsky. She takes them up to his place. Upon getting no answer to her knock, she leans against the door to listen, instead of dumping them and leaving like the rest of us would. Only, we have a plot to uphold here! The door swings open and she’s made witness to an absolute wreck of a room. A creature swings down behind her. “SECRET!” he yells, scaring the bejeesus out of both her and I, and closes the door. “Famous jumping mouse circus not ready!” Everything about this man is repulsive, from his horizontal moustache whiskers to his body hair to his lack of clothing. His skin is blue, which I would attribute to the artistic design of the film but really, they’re probably being realistic: it’s freezing cold outside and he’s in a shrunken wife beater and basketball shorts (the old kind from the 80s, the sort that are like booty shorts for men). He jumps around doing gymnastic moves; this is the same man who was on the roof when the Joneses moved in. He thinks she’s brought his cheese upstairs to spy on his jumping mice. I am really not in the mood for stupid neighbors today. Coraline turns friendly and introduces herself. He: “I am The Amazing Bobinsky! You, call me Mr. B. Because amazing I already know that I am. You see, Caroline, the problem is, my new songs go OOMPAH, OOMPAH, but the jumping mice play only tootle-toot, like that. Is nice, but, not so much amazing.” Hence the stronger cheese. Okay, those lines got a laugh from me.
The journey to the basement is commenced, with Caroline singing Russian-accented tootle-toots, when Mr. Bobinsky is back again. It seems the mice have a message for her: “Do not go through leetle door.” The mice also mistakenly call her Coraline. “Not Caroline at all! Maybe I work them too hard.” He swings back up to the roof and she watches him skeptically.

In a move I don’t pretend to understand, Coraline has packed a conductor’s hat—and just the hat—in a suitcase, which was strapped—just the one suitcase—to the roof of the car. She puts it on and heads down to visit the actresses. When no one answers her knock, girl gets impatient (what else is new?) and peers through the glass, which is simultaneously attacked by Scottie dogs on the other side. “Cease your infernal yapping!” yells a woman with a walker and way too much makeup. Misses Spink and Forcible are two old, overweight, busty ex-actresses. I would call them eccentric, only we just met Mr. Bobinsky. One of the misses offers to read Coraline’s tea leaves. She puts on a hilarious purple turban to do so. Apparently Coraline is in danger. There’s a very mysterious hand in her future. The other miss sees a giraffe. Coraline decides it’s time to go. Um, Coraline! Don’t you think these two would have fun interpreting your so-called dream?!?! Come on!!! I want to hear their crazy take on it.

A thick fog has settled on the ground. Behind her, a mask scuttles in and out of the mist. Coraline hears a crank and starts; then her eyes turn to knowing slits. “Great. The village stalker.” Wybie and the cat are hunting banana slugs. People in Oregon must have a lot of time on their hands. She wants to know about the doll that looks just like her, but he’s more interested in the slugs. She: “You’re just like them. I mean my parents. They don’t listen to me either!” He has her take photos of him and the slug, which makes her laugh. I guess this means they’re becoming friends. He tells her that he’s not allowed inside the pink house—it’s dangerous. His grandmother had a twin sister. “When they were kids, Grandma’s sister disappeared. She says she was stolen.” So they stayed in the neighborhood for the next eighty years? At hearing this, the cat looks into the window of Coraline’s room, where Creeper Coraline is propped against the window, and growls.

Bedtime again, and Coraline is putting cheese by her door. She settles into sleep, and opens her eyes at the squeaks of the jumping mice. She follows them back through the leetle door. I don’t understand why we’re being given the impression that this is a dream. In the novel, it happened. It wasn’t her imagination. It wasn’t a dream. Though obviously impossible, it was a real occurrence. The Coraline in this movie has blue hair. I believe that her hair grows out blue (unless she dyes it; with these parents, doubtful). I am capable of believing, in this movie, that this door exists and there is a tunnel behind it that chooses when to exist and when to be a brick wall and there’s another mother at the end of it. STOP ACTING LIKE A DREAM.

The other mother is cooking in the kitchen. She greets Coraline.
          OTHER MOTHER: Would you mind fetching your father? I bet he’s hungry as a pumpkin by now!
          CORALINE: You mean… my other father.
          OTHER MOTHER: Your better father, dear.
Despite protests that her parents don’t have time to garden, Coraline is sent on her way to fetch the other father from that very place. She goes outside, where the moon is rising over a natural crater full of plants. As she walks through the garden everything comes to life—plants start to glow with inner light, flowers spring up through the walkways and across the hillside, and animals to talk and sing to her. It’s very cool. The other father is on a praying mantis (interesting) -shaped tractor and he saves her from the “dragon-snappers” tickling her. The tractor becomes a small helicopter and he flies her over the garden to show her that it’s been designed to look like Coraline’s face. Sound familiar? SOUND FAMILIAR? He tells her the other mother knew Coraline would like it. She knows her so, so well.

“I looove dinner breakfast food!” chortles the other father as they load up their plates again, in the kitchen this time. I’d like to carry him around in my pocket. My little pocket optimist. The other mother feeds sausage bites to the snapdragons. She tells Coraline that after dinner she can go see the jumping mice perform.
          CORALINE: That know-it-all Wybie said it was all in Mr. B’s head. I knew he was wrong.
          OTHER FATHER: Everything’s right in this world, kiddo!
The other mother tells Coraline that she and her friend can go see the show. Friend? The other mother opens the door and on the doorstep is a button-eyed Wybie. Coraline is none too thrilled to meet another Why Were You Born. Other Wybie smiles and waves but doesn’t speak. Other mother: “I thought you’d like him more if he spoke a little less.” Coraline considers this and approves.

They go outside and I am telling you, this house all lit up and feeling like a warm summer’s night is absolutely beautiful. It looks like it was just built yesterday. I’d like a topiary flamingo. “It didn’t hurt, did it? When she…” Coraline begins, but Other Wybie just points to a motorized lantern guiding them to Mr. B’s door. Inside are cannons that shoot cotton candy and a metal chicken that pecks a corncob and poops popcorn. I’d like one of those too. There’s a tiny tent at the end of the room and the pair crawl inside. It’s much bigger on the inside. Like a TARDIS. The motorized balloon is back, and out of it explode about fifty mice in red suits, which fall in formation to make Coraline’s name with their tails. Then they turn into a tiny jumping marching band. Coraline is excited about every single thing they do. “IT’S WONDERFUL, WYBIE!” she shrieks. Is there crack in the cotton candy? Somehow a pyramid transforms into Mr. Bobinsky, who is a healthy blue and wearing a nicely-fitting circus conductor’s uniform. “Very very thank you,” he tells his applauding audience. The mice climb into his sleeves and vanish. Coraline tells him how AMAZING it was and he tells them they’re always welcome. No shouts of “SECRET!” around here.

The other mother kisses Coraline goodnight. Wybie still has cotton candy stuck to his hair. Heh. The bedtime crowd watches Coraline’s eyes close.
She wakes up in her own room. It’s raining outside. Coraline lets out a primeval groan. Oh, here’s a cheerful item of note: the cheese she left out the night before is truly gone. She races downstairs to the leetle door but it’s stuck shut.

Oh, we have an annual Shakespeare festival where I live too! The best one was Much Ado About Nothing. They set it in the Old West—okay, okay. The Jones family has gone to town. Literally. They’re in front of a big garden store. Coraline is enthusiastically recapping her slumbering adventures. Her notes are more concise than mine. Mr. Jones looks nervous and Mrs. Jones is irritable. “Don’t fret, Charlie, they’ll love the new catalog. At least, they’ll love my chapters. I did not call him crazy, Coraline. He’s drunk.” That last in reference to Mr. Bobinsky. I like the subtleness here: it doesn’t look like it, but the Jones parents, despite whatever currently holds their attention, hear everything that comes out of their daughter’s mouth. They do a poor job of showing it, but they are listening. Mr. Jones looks like an middle-aged version of that guy who played the main character in Stardust—ha, also a Gaiman story. The women deposit him at the I Heart Mulch store and go schoolclothes shopping. Coraline spies a pair of $25 gloves which she loves. “Put them back,” says her mother (and my mother, and your mother). Coraline pouts: “My other mother would get them.” This line sounds a lot like the real-life comment seed from which grows a novel. In addition, it lets us know that the magic of Otherworld is making good progress. Observe, the car ride home:
          CORALINE: So what do you think’s in the other apartment.
          MRS. JONES: I don’t know. Not a family of Jones imposters.
          CORALINE: Then why’d you lock the door?
          MRS. JONES: Oh. I found some rat crap, and… I thought you’d feel safer.
          CORALINE: They’re jumping mice, MOM. And the dreams aren’t dangerous. They’re
          the most fun I’ve had since we’ve moved here.
          MRS. JONES: Your school might be fun.
          CORALINE: With those stupid uniforms? Right!
          MRS. JONES: Had to give it a try.
Oh, ATTITUDE. Middle school girl, you are hitting your stride. And it’s much easier to feel safe when you think something only exists in your dreams, doesn’t it? When they pull up to the house it’s pouring rain. There’s nothing in the fridge but mustard and what I think is an onion. Mrs. Jones asks Coraline if she wants to come grocery shopping [a thing this movie keeps calling “food shopping”] and is turned down. She of the blue hair and ungloved hands is still sulking. Mrs. Jones promises that if everything goes well today, she’ll make it up to her. “You always say that.” Mother number one looks sadly at Coraline and leaves.
          MRS. JONES: Won’t be long.
          CORALINE: [aside] But I might be.
Coraline retrieves the key and this time when she unlocks the leetle door, the tunnel waits beyond it. From the other side of the window the black cat watches her climb inside. He looks irritated.

No one is in the other kitchen, but the other mother has left the table covered in sugary baked goods. There’s a card with an invitation to visit Misses Spink and Forcible, as well as a set of clothes the other mother made for Coraline. She eats, changes, and goes out to the porch, where she meets the black cat. And now we conduct an existential conversation with a cat, which I feel can only go in circles.
          CORALINE: You must be the other cat.
          CAT: No. I’m not the other anything. I’m me.
          CORALINE: Um… I can see you don’t have button eyes, but if you’re the same cat, how
          can you talk?
          CAT: I just can.
          CORALINE: Cats don’t talk at home.
          CAT: No?
          CORALINE: Nope.
          CAT: Well. You’re clearly the expert on these things.
I love this exchange all the more because Neil Gaiman has like eighteen cats. The other mother hates cats, our cat reveals whilst performing a few Cheshire-like tricks, and tries to keep him out. “She can’t, of course; I come and go as I please.” It’s a game they play. He has a black man’s deep voice, which surprised me because I was expecting something nasal and British, but I like it. Have I mentioned how perfect Coraline’s voice is, by the way? If you can put a personality into a sound, this is a perfect match. I don’t like talking about the actors behind the voices when I watch films because I want to forget that the character is anything but real, in this span of time and story, at least, and I don’t like reminders that they’re also someone else. But Dakota Fanning doesn’t even sound like Dakota Fanning here. She sounds like Coraline.
          CORALINE: The other mother hates cats?!
          CAT: Not like any MOTHER I’ve ever known!
          CORALINE: What do you mean? She’s amazing!
          CAT: You probably think this world is a dream come true. But you’re wrong. The other
          Wybie told me so.
          CORALINE: That’s nonsense, he can’t talk.
          CAT: Perhaps not to you. We cats, however, have far superior senses than humans—
She rolls her eyes. He hears something and runs off to hunt it.

Coraline is greeted at the theater entrance by a Scottie with a flashlight. Dogs comprise the whole audience, plus the other Wybie. The Misses put on a sea-themed show, in costume as a mermaid and Botticelli’s Venus—which makes me laugh hysterically from start to finish, because it is so incredibly horrifying. They’re obese and old and wearing practically nothing. Then they have a sing-off, which ends tragically when the set collapses.
Part II. A Scottie pushes a barrel of water onto the stage. The two women are on diving boards near the ceiling. Right before taking the plunge, both unzip their bodies—unsettling to watch—and reveal their young, beautiful selves inside. They do an acrobatic sequence involving Coraline, who loves it, and land triumphantly in a column. The crowd goes wild. That was the weirdest thing I’ve seen this movie do yet.

The other parents are waiting when they exit the theater. Coraline describes her involvement in the act with enthusiasm. I love the other mother’s current outfit—black with polka dots, pencil skirt, the top ending in a bustle, bustle V-ing in triple layers with edges of red satin, red heels. The Jones imposters go inside. Before she closes the door, the other mother looks at the other Wybie, who looks dejected—a stark contrast to his constant cheerfulness—and smiles, as though to imply that he should do the same. Her smile is threatening.

The other parents invite Coraline to stay with them forever. They’ll sing and play games and make Coraline’s favorite foods. I have to give it to them: this is a beautifully built spiderweb. It’s more convincing than the book, in which the other mother only tried to persuade Coraline to stay despite the creepy feel instead of making her feel comfortable and queenly, as is happening here. They deepened her dissatisfaction with her real life and kept building her desire and greed for the other life. It’s worked: she’s raring to sign up. There’s just one catch. The other mother pulls out a gift box—“For you, our little doll.” I love the implication of puppeteer and unknowing puppet inside those very loving words. Inside the box are two large black buttons. It takes a second for Coraline to get it. “No way! You’re not sewing BUTTONS in my eyes!” That’s the only way for her to stay here, though. The other father picks up the needle. “So sharp, you won’t feel a th—OW!” The other mother kicks him viciously.
The other mother assures Coraline that it’s her choice, but the girl looks at them like they’re about to tackle her and poke needles through her eyes as soon as she turns her back. She pretends to be tired. Before going up to bed, the other mother tells her, “I—we’re not worried at all, darling. Soon you’ll see things our way.” The button way. They watch her climb the stairs.

She runs into her room and packs all her talking toys into a toychest, shoves furniture in front of the door, and dives under the covers. In the morning, she pushes back the blankets with a delighted yell for Mom and Dad—but she’s still in the other bedroom. “I’m still here?” she says, distressed. She goes to the living room door, but it’s been locked from the inside. Then she hears piano keys. I like this determined look Coraline gets all the time. It probably drives her parents crazy, but she’s definitely a never-surrender person.

Inside the study, the other father is plonking one piano key at a time. She tells him she wants to go home. He says, “All will be well, soon as Mother’s refreshed. Her strength is our strength.” The piano hands jump out and clamp over his mouth and shake a finger at him. They recede back into the instrument. He amends, “Musn’t talk when Mother’s not around.” Fine. She says she’ll just ask the other Wybie. The other father: “No point. He pulled a loooooong face. And Mother didn’t like it.” This time the piano hands shoot out and grab the other father by the head. It looks like they smushed him like playdough. Coraline runs out of the room.

She dashes out a side door and runs up the well-maintained hill path. The further she walks, the less well-defined the things around her are. The trees turn blocky. The sky gets pixelly. The black cat shows up and demands to know what Coraline is up to now. She’s getting out of here, she tells him; but by now the whole world is just empty whiteness.
          CAT: Nothing out here. It’s the empty part of this world. She only made what she knew
          would impress you.
          CORALINE: But why? Why does she want me?
          CAT: She wants something to love. I think. Something that isn’t her. Or maybe she’d just
          love something to eat.
“But mothers don’t eat daughters…” Coraline tries to say, and I start thinking of praying mantises and sharks. My sister has a guppy who keeps giving birth—how, we don't know—and the last time she came home for Christmas she put them all in the same bowl for the duration of the drive home. One baby didn't make it. The other two cowered in shock at the bottom of their little cup for the next three days; as my sister explained to me, “They had a traumatic meeting with their mom.” Coraline and the cat come out of the whiteness and find themselves back where they started from. In the bushes at the front of the house a tiny trumpet starts to play, and the cat pounces on a circus mouse. He bites the rodent and it takes its true form: a sand-filled rat. Coraline is horrified. “I don’t like rats at the best of times,” the cat tells her, “but this one was sounding an alarm.” He runs off with his catch. “Good kitty,” breathes Coraline. She turns back to the house.

She selects a walking cane from the stand at the door and uses it to pry open the parlor doors. The room is dark but she can see the leetle tunnel entrance. Coraline steps forward eagerly. A huge beetle-shaped wardrobe scuttles in front of it and blocks it. It starts to glow from the inside, the way the plants did. I love the visual elements of this film! All the furniture starts to glow, one by one, throughout the room, until the other mother says, “They say even the proudest spirit can be broken… with love.” She’s waiting on the couch. Coraline is ushered forward. She looks mad. The other mother offers her a “cocoa beetle, from Zanzibar!” and pops one into her own mouth. Coraline demands to be taken back to her own parents. The other mother wants an apology for speaking to her in that way. “I’ll give you to the count of three.” As she’s counting, the other mother’s body stretches and grows until she’s twice her size, with a long neck and thin to the extreme, though her bustle is still huge—kind of shaped like a giraffe. On three, she grabs Coraline by the nose and drags her into the hallway, where she throws her literally into the mirror. There’s a little dungeon on the other side. “You may come out when you’ve learned to be a loving daughter,” she snarls, and then she’s gone. Coraline bangs on the wall to no avail.

In the mirror dungeon are three ghosts. They’re children, a boy and two girls, and one looks the same as the doll who existed before the Coraline model. They tell her that they were lured here by the other mother, who spied on them with creeper dolls and saw that they were unhappy, then made them promises and played games and gave them everything they wanted. They let her sew buttons in their eyes and she locked them away and “ate up our lives.” Coraline hears all this without really reacting or being thankful at the news that she dodged a bullet. She declares, “Well… she can’t keep me in the dark forever.” Why not, Coraline? “Not if she wants to win my life. Beating her is my only chance.” Okay. Whatever you say. She can still keep you locked in there forever. The ghosts tell her that if she finds their eyes, their souls will be freed. “I’ll try,” she says, and hands reach through the mirror and pull her out.
It’s the other Wybie, and he’s smiling grotesquely. The other mother wired the edges of his mouth up into a smile. That is FREAKY. I’ve never had a clown phobia but if this is what they look like to those people, I fully understand it. Coraline does what he might easily have done—take the wires out—and he pulls her into the parlor. They get the tunnel door open, but the tunnel is no longer plush and purple. It’s full of spiderwebs and decay and lost toys and shoes, a lot of shoes, a graveyard of Alice in Wonderland meets Cinderella. Coraline pulls at Wybie to come with her, but he takes off a glove and shows her that he’s made of sawdust.
The other mother thunders down the stairs in devil shoes. “CORALINE!” Wybie pushes Coraline into the tunnel and shuts the door. She scrambles through the tunnel and makes it into her own house. She closes the leetle door and locks it.
And leaves the key in the lock. Oh my word. Bad feelings everywhere.

“I’m HOOOOME!” she hollers, smiling. The house is empty. She finds a bag of groceries on the counter. The food is rotted and full of flies. The doorbell rings. She runs to it, thinking it’s her parents. I won’t criticize this; girl’s been through a lot. It’s not them, of course. “Oh. The Wybie that talks.” His posture bothers me much more than his vocal chords. He’s looking for Creeper Coraline. Turns out Grandma didn’t approve the transfer from her house to Coraline’s. But it looked just like Coraline, was his reasoning. She says, “It used to look like this pioneer girl! Then, Huck Finn Jr.! Then this Little Rascals chick with all these ribbons and braids and…” And there you go, everyone—the ghosts of Christmases past, seen through the eyes of Coraline Jones. Couldn’t have recapped it better myself.
She drags Wybie into the parlor. She’s figured out who Grandma’s missing twin is. “She’s in there!” WYBIE, STAND UP STRAIGHT. He doesn’t know what to think about the ghost-talk. All he wants is Creeper Coraline. Great! She can’t wait to give it back.
          CORALINE: Where are you hiding, you little monster?
          WYBIE: You and Grandma been talking?
AH. This is why they never left the neighborhood: Grandma has set herself up as Guardian of the Pink House. Can't say she's done a bang up job. Coraline starts talking about spies and dolls and other mothers and better neighbors and ask the cat, and Wybie makes a beeline for the door. He’s still not listening. Coraline snaps. She chases him out of the house, throwing her shoes at him. “You’re the jerkwad who GAVE me the doll!” She sees her parents’ car outside. There’s no one in it. The keys are in the ignition and her mother’s phone is on the seat. Coraline calls her dad and it goes to voicemail. “Where have you gone?” she wails plaintively.

The Misses Spink and Forcible aren’t of much help. They’re knitting angel dog outfits and bemoaning their lost ride to the theater. They do manage to come up with a little gift—a triangular rock with a hole through the center. It’s a talisman that is good for bad things or lost things, depending on which Miss you talk to.

Coraline goes into her parents’ bedroom and arranges the pillows in imitation of them. She puts her father’s glasses on one round pillow. She shapes a cloth into a neck-brace and puts another circular pillow inside it. This is very sweet and heartbreaking. “Good night, mom. Good night, dad.” She kisses her pillow parents and curls up between them, and finally cries. So do our hearts.

The cat wakes her up by batting her nose. She asks if he knows where they are and he blinks a yes. She follows him to the hall mirror. Inside it, freezing, are Coraline’s parents. Her mother writes HELP US on the glass before the whole thing ices over. Coraline smashes the mirror (was that wise?) and asks the cat how this happened. He leads her back to their bed; underneath it is a modified creeper doll, double-sided—the Joneses in miniature. Coraline throws it in the fire and watches it burn up. GO, GIRL. She looks at the cat. “They’re not coming back, are they? Mom and Dad. Not on their own. Only one thing to do.” She looks at the leetle door and the key in it. This girl spends a lot of time in her pajamas. I’m not judging. She packs a bag full of the necessary parent-saving items.

Armed with a candle, Jones Rescue Ops crawls back through the darkened tunnel. The cat just wants to make sure she knows she’s walking into an Other Mother trap.
          CORALINE: I have to go back. They are my parents.
          CAT: Challenge her, then. She may not play fair, but she won’t refuse. She’s got a thing for games.
The door at the other end opens and Mrs. Jones, ice-encrusted and neck-braced, calls Coraline’s name. Coraline runs forward, but as you might expect, it’s really the other mother in disguise. She stretches back out to her previous scary self. The other father lumbers in. He looks like a pumpkin. A rat runs out of the tunnel and delivers the black key to the other mother, who swallows it. Coraline wants to know why she doesn’t just have her own key made. “There’s only one key,” says the pumpkin father. That’s a good enough answer for me! The other mother ushers him out to take care of the squash.

“Breakfast time!” she sings. It’s eternally night here, so this so-called meal bothers me. Coraline sits at the table and a bead of sweat rolls down her forehead. The buttons sit in their gift box above her plate. She’s wearing her conductor hat, which I love. The other mother sings while she cooks. Now I really want pancakes and bacon. Why is it always bacon? Coraline proposes they play an exploring game—a finding-things game. If she can find her parents and the eyes of the ghost children, the other mother has to free everyone she’s trapped here. If Coraline loses, she’ll stay here forever and the other mother can sew buttons into her eyes. It’s a deal—but only if the other mother gives her a clue, which (oddly) she readily does. “In each of three wonders I’ve made just for you, a ghost’s eye is lost in plain sight.” I think the button detail is incredibly interesting. She can make everything else, but eyes—eyes are telling, eyes betray the good and bad inside a person. Real eyes would give her away in a second. She CAN’T make eyes. They’re so full of life and truth. They would give her away because anything but the real thing would be such an obvious fake.

Coraline starts in the garden. The plants are half-alive: they’re trumpeting out of tune, their lights are half-lit, they’re leaking, and they’re vicious. Some attack her and she hacks them to pieces with her Rescue Ops pliers. Hummingbirds try to carry off her talisman, which she retrieves with a well-aimed throw of her satchel. When she looks through the rock, everything turns black and white except the glow of the ghosts’ eyes. The first one is located on the praying-mantis tractor, which the pumpkin father is manning. He starts to attack her with it, although he tells her in a voice like an off-track music record that the other mother is making him and he doesn’t want to hurt her. Right before the tractor plunges into the pond, the pumpkin father looses the ghost eye and hands it to Coraline. Then everything sinks into the water and the garden loses its color. An eclipse starts to cover the moon.

She heads into the theater. It’s empty but an unseen Miss is singing. Coraline finds a flashlight and discovers the Scotties hanging like red-eyed bats on the ceiling. Onstage is a huge white thing, like an oversized candy wrapper. Coraline uses the talisman and finds the next ghost’s eyes in a pearl ring inside. When she grabs it, the young Misses Spink and Forcible come to life in shades of pink and green and sharp teeth and scream for her to give it back. It is scary. Coraline wakes the bat-dogs, which attack the Misses and let her escape with the ring. The theater turns pixeled and white. A voice in the pearl urges Coraline to hurry—“Her web is unwinding!”

The flag outside Mr. B’s door has been replaced by the other Wybie’s empty clothes. “Evil witch! I’m not scared!” she yells. Something I miss about the book is all the bravery talks Coraline has to give herself. MovieCoraline is confident and determined, and that’s wonderful. Kids watching this should see that even someone as young and physically weak as Coraline can still stand up to evil and fight with all her might. Having once been a twelve-year-old girl, I would say that movieCoraline is who we want to be; bookCoraline is who we are. In the novel Coraline is shaking in her boots, and she’s really scared but she knows she has to be brave to save the people she loves. Most of the peeks we get into her head are her reminders to herself to be brave. It doesn’t come naturally to her the way it does to this feisty blue-haired creature. I really enjoy both versions. Admittedly the film version is a little more accessible. BookCoraline is very English and it’s hard to read her emotions. MovieCoraline wears her heart on her sleeve, which makes it easier to empathize with her.
Inside, the show is closed. Mr. Bobinsky—or something like him—greets her and asks if his circus ball is what she’s looking for. The talisman tells her yes. She grabs for it, but he slides through the room, out of sight but not hearing. “You think that winning game is good thing? You’ll just go home and be bored and neglected, same as always. Stay here with us. We will listen to you and love you!” Coraline tells him he doesn’t get it—he’s just a copy of the real Mr. Bobinsky. He responds in a creepy chorus: “Not even that, anymore,” and collapses as rats pour out of his clothing. The other rats delay Coraline as the head rat, the one holding the circus ball, escapes out the door. She throws the talisman stone after him, but her good aim quota has been used up. Both stone and rat sail out of sight into the night. She somehow manages to loosen the entire balcony from its mounts and is thrown to the ground.

The button eclipse of the moon is almost complete. She sits up on the grass and moans, “I’ve lost the game. I’ve lost everything.” [I just lost The Game]. As she starts crying, the rat’s head and circus ball fall to the ground in front of her. The black cat says, “I think I mentioned that I don’t like rats at the best of times.” She smiles and thanks him. When she picks up the final ghost’s eyes, everything is washed out in black and white again. She tells the cat she’s going inside to find her parents. At this moment the eclipse completes, and white streaks out from the button moon like shattering glass or falling leaves. Everything but the house is vacuumed up. Coraline and the cat run inside.

The interior is still whole and colored, although the wallpaper is curling off the walls and none of the bug furniture works. The cat growls at the other mother, who is sitting on the couch in the parlor. Her face is fractured like broken china. “So. You’re back. And you brought vermin with you.” Her hands are metal rods and she walks on four metal legs. Spider spider spider spider. Coraline nearly hands the ghost eyes to her but catches herself. She tells the other mother she still has to find her own parents. The other mother wishes her luck without her little talisman, which she holds up to all our dismay. She throws it into the green fire and it melts.
Coraline pretends to know where her parents are. She says they’re behind the leetle door, a trick which actually WORKS: the other mother hocks up the keys and unlocks the door, revealing the empty, decaying tunnel beyond. Meanwhile, Coraline has located her parents in a snowglobe, which she slips into her satchel. She flings the cat at the other mother’s face and he claws off her button eyes. This infuriates the other mother. “You horrible cheating girl!” Takes one to know one. She undoes the magic holding the floor in place, and it collapses into a giant metal spiderweb with Coraline at the center. The other mother blindly launches herself into it. Coraline starts climbing out of the web but the other mother locates her and chases her to the tunnel entrance. Just as Coraline is closing the door, the other mother gets her hands on it. The ghost children help pull the door shut, but not before they break off one of the other mother’s hands into the tunnel. Coraline locks the other door and scrambles back through the tunnel while the other mother bangs on the other side of the door and screams “DON’T LEAVE ME, DON’T LEAVE ME! I’LL DIE WITHOUT YOU!” The tunnel accordions in after Coraline, who gets through her leetle door in the nick of time. She shuts and locks it just as the other door slams into it with such force that it knocks her backwards. Everything goes quiet. She sits there panting in shock for a moment. She puts the key into her satchel and discovers the Detroit Zoo snowglobe on the mantel is shattered.

Her parents walk through the door, ice-encrusted, with no idea that anything happened to them. She stares at them while they scold her for breaking things and tell her to clean up because they’re going out.
          MR. JONES: We’ve got a lot to celebrate!
          CORALINE: You’re talking about… your garden catalog?
          MRS. JONES: Of course! What else?
          CORALINE: But look at the snow on your clothes!
          MRS. JONES: What’s gotten into you, Coraline?
Coraline watches the ice melt. Her parents walk away, shrugging to each other. She gives the broken snow globe a funny look.

Bedtime. Mr. and Mrs. Jones are in Coraline’s room, giving her the sweet attention she’s been craving. She tells her parents to give invitations to their gardening party to everybody, even Mr. Bobinsky. Learned to look past appearances, eh, Coraline? They kiss her goodnight and her mother slips a box under the blankets before leaving the room. It’s the gloves. Coraline puts them on and smiles. The black cat appears at the window and she goes over to it. “You still mad?” she asks. The cat glowers at her. She apologizes and his expression softens. I’ve never had a cat, but I didn’t think they were so quick to forgive. Especially after being flung at an enraged, murderous devilwoman’s face. Coraline gets back in bed and takes out the balls containing the ghosts’ eyes/souls. “I think it’s time, don’t you? To set them free?” She put the balls under her pillow. Oh, is that how it works, like a tooth fairy soul-freer? The cat curls up next to her and they fall asleep.
The ceiling opens up into Monet/Van Goghish painting and the three ghosts, now angels (I guess) thank Coraline. She’s just glad it’s over. They exchange glances. That’s never good. “It is over and done with… for us,” says Wybie’s Grandmother’s sister. The problem is the key. They’re sure the beldam (the other mother) will find it. I’ve never heard of a beldam. Is this a reference to the belle dame sans merci? The bright note in all of this is that Coraline is still alive. “Thou art still living.” I’m sure that’s super reassuring, seeing as it could certainly change any moment and almost has quite a few times.

Coraline wakes in a cold sweat and is horrified to find the eye-balls in crushed pieces beneath her pillow. Well then maybe you shouldn’t have SLEPT ON THEM. She clambers out of bed to hide the key. The cat tries to block the door but she brushes past him. Coraline, if you don’t stop and listen to other people as much as you want to be listened to, I am going to start calling you Caroline.
As she walks past the front room the leetle door starts to shudder. YES, ZOOM IN, PLEASE! I want a good closeup of whatever horrifying thing is about to emerge! It’s the metal hand. It pries itself out and goes into offense mode.

Coraline strolls along the hill path, the house lit prettily below her. She sings to herself, walking nervously through the dark orchard as the hand follows behind. She pries off the well cover and right as she’s taking off the keystring around her neck to drop it in, the hand makes a flying leap, grabs the key, and starts dragging it (and by proxy, Coraline) back to the house where the leetle door is being banged on from the other side and an ominous green light is shining from the cracks. Terrific.

All of a sudden an air horn goes off and high on the hill a motorbike light goes on. The hand throws its…elf up. I hate when movies pretend that severed hands can see. WHY IS WYBIE HERE? He comes down the hill at top speed and grabs the hand, which then attacks him. This throws off his steering and sends both of them flying through the air and into the well. Wybie is able to grab the edge and hang on, problem being that the hand hangs on to him. It climbs him like a ladder and starts flicking at his fingers to make him lose his grip. Coraline comes barreling up and tackles the hand, catching it in her blanket, which it has no trouble ripping through. Right as it’s about to go for her throat a huge rock smashes it to smithereens. Thanks, Wybie! Go teamwork! Coraline ties up the rock and hand in her blanket with the key string, and they drop the whole kit and caboodle into the well and replace the cover. I’d put a barbed fence with an electrical current around that too, guys, unless you want this to turn into Jumanji.
Wybie apologizes for not believing Coraline. His grandmother showed him a picture of her twin and she looks just like the ghost girl Coraline described. Right then, Grandma starts hollering for Wyborn—AS WELL SHE MIGHT, TOO, I MEAN WHAT IS IT LIKE 2 IN THE MORNING? GO HOME, CHILDREN—and Coraline tells him to bring his grandma by tomorrow and they’ll explain everything together. Oh btw she’s glad he decided to stalk her. Before this gets weird, Wybie says it wasn’t his idea—and up hops the black cat. All three do the horizontal head tilt and smile affectionately.

A white balloon! It’s not symbolic of anything, is it? Coraline serves lemonade to everyone at the gardening party. They’re filling the whole area with red tulips. In the area that was once the pond, Mr. B is uprooting flowers and replacing them with beets. The mice say all is well, he tells her. Then we hear a voice full of awesome say, “Wyborn! I know where I’m going! I grew up here!” Wybie leads his grandmother into the garden—which is still shaped like Coraline’s face, I’ll have you know—and Coraline greets her with a huge smile. “I’m Coraline Jones! I have to so much to tell you!”

Pan out from the garden, past the house, to the house sign, atop which lies the black cat, washing himself. He stands and pulls another vanishing trick. I wish this music was different. Not a lot—just something that didn’t leave me with my nerves on edge.

It’s over!

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