Saturday Morning Cartoons/Octoberween: “Coraline” From Book to Film

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Happy Halloween to all our readers! I hope you have an appropriately spooky night. Why not finish it off with a scary story?

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This website is dedicated to film and TV, but it would be remiss of us to not mention the printed origins from which many films come. I love books as much as I love films – both provide a glorious window to fiction and to new worlds. My favorite author has to be Neil Gaiman and one of my favorite books of all time is his “children’s book,” Coraline. I put “children’s book” in quotes because its dark fantasy and horror aspects make it able to crawl and creep under the skin of even adults. Coraline is a deliciously dark fairy tale about a girl, named Coraline, who is frustrated with her parents and her boring life after being forced to move into a creaking old apartment house. After exploring the house, she finds a mysteriously bricked up door, which at night becomes not quite so bricked up. It instead connects to an alternate version of the apartment with “other” versions of the residents, including her “Other Mother” and “Other Father,” all of whom are nicer, more attentive to Coraline’s wants, and far more interesting. Oh, and did I mention that they all have buttons for eyes? Despite the creepy appearance, Coraline feels like she’s found a dream come true, until the true nature of the other wold starts revealing itself. The story unravels in a ghost-story-mixed-with-fairy-tale fashion, with Coraline having to face many terrifying challenges and overcoming them with great tenacity despite her fears.

coraline button eyes

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*for kids

Books being made into movies rarely works out well, and similar to how most people react to a movie based on their favorite book, I fell that Coraline the book is definitely better than Coraline the film. However, the movie is probably my favorite movie rendition of a book. The film version manages to evoke similar themes and atmosphere as the book, and the filmmaker’s moves to stay true to the source material certainly show. The interactions and dialogue between the characters is often verbatim, and helps us get to know them. For instance, how most of Coraline’s neighbors keep calling her “Caroline” despite her corrections, help us understand her feeling of being ignored and neglected. Coraline’s character is especially well done. I love all the imaginative outfits given to her throughout the movie. It helps us get to see her creative side. Her interactions with the movie-exclusive character Wybie, shows that even she can be rather mean-spirited when she’s frustrated or upset. Her flaws make sense for her age and are well developed, along with her good points of bravery and determination. Not only that, but Dakota Fanning provides a pretty good voice for her. Though the best voice casting has to be Keith David as the cat. His deep voice has just the right inflection of pomposity that seems to have been made for the cat. In the book my favorite interactions were probably between Coraline and the cat, so it made me happy to see that their scenes were done well in the film.

Another thing to applaud the film version for is their use of the visual medium, not just to show the audience the story that happened in the book, but to add to the portrayal of the symbols and themes throughout the book. One example is how the Other Mother’s outfit and appearance becomes more and more spider-like as the movie goes on. The use of insect-inspired furniture for the room with the door was a great addition to the film, giving the feeling that Coraline has been caught in her “web” so to speak. The mentions and images of a “hand” throughout the film are also nicely done as they foreshadow occurrences later on. I’m super happy that this one piece of dialogue, said by the Other Father to Coraline about the Other Mother, was kept from the book and added to the movie – “She knows you like the back of her hand.” This line is brilliant because when it is said it is done so in a positive light, but later on when you find out what it really means, it becomes terrifying.

coraline other mother transform

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The Other Mother’s bustle becomes more like a spider’s abdomen and her limbs become more thin and spindly like a spider’s legs.

Perhaps the only thing in the film that I’m not one-hundred percent sure of how I feel about is the movie-only character, Wybie (and by extension, Other Wybie). It seems most books-to-film suffer from the subtraction of characters rather than the addition of them. Though “suffer” is probably not the right word. Wybie is somewhat necessary, since in the book, Coraline internalizes most of her dialogue. By having a character present that is Coraline’s own age, it allows the audience to hear more of what she is thinking out loud, and gives her more opportunities to verbalize.

coraline book movie compare

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A Dave McKean illustration from the book (above) vs a screenshot from the movie (below).

The last thing that I want to discuss is the animation. As is probably obvious, I love animation. However, stop-motion animation has never caught my interest. To be truthful, it just sort of creeps me out. I think the fact that I can tell that the characters are dolls or puppets, slightly decreases my suspension of disbelief. On the other hand they also look just unreal enough that I have a hard time connecting to the characters. It’s also often easier for me to tell that the characters and objects are being moved by someone based on their rickety and unnaturally jerky movements. But with that in mind, doesn’t it make it the perfect way to animate a movie such as this? It even fits with the concept that Coraline is like “a little doll” to the Other Mother. The style used for this movie even looks very similar to the illustrations done by Dave McKean in the book. It’s as if the models walked right off the pages. My usual issue with stop-motion looking stiff or unnatural was also not a problem in this film, since the movements of the characters are smooth as liquid. The lighting and colors are gorgeous, and it feels so very much like it’s own world, and not one moved by people in the background. Knowing the process of stop-motion animation of meticulously moving the figures ever so slightly for every sliver of every second of film, there were times I was looking at the screen and wondering “how are they doing this?!” So much work was put into the models. Coraline’s individual hairs move around at points, and the clothing was painstakingly knitted by hand! Coraline took about 18 months to film and is the longest running stop-motion animation film to date. The sheer effort alone is amazing and the skill involved certainly shows.

Coraline is one of the few instances in which I can say that stop-motion animation is truly beautiful; it is also one of the few instances where a film emulates a book nearly flawlessly. For those looking for a unique and highly imaginative spooky story to enjoy either by themselves or with a younger audience, I wholly recommend Coraline – both the book and the film.

5 thoughts on “Saturday Morning Cartoons/Octoberween: “Coraline” From Book to Film

    • Ah. Well, I grew up with the book. I also admit I am biased, since the author of the book is probably my favorite author. But either way, it’s really cool that the movie was well done and well received.

        • Well, as I said in the article, it bothered me a bit at first. But I found him necessary since in the book Coraline internalizes a lot of her thoughts. With Wybie in the film, it allows her to verbalize what she is thinking out loud. Other Wybie in the film also plays similar roles as the Other Father in the book. So it’s not like the plot was changed with his addition; it simply formed around his character’s presence quite smoothly. In the end, I’m cool with his being there.

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