Sometimes, the Movie is Better: A Review of Coraline

Sometimes, the movie is better.

An absolutely sacrilegious statement to hear from someone representing LitSoc, I know. But hear me out.

My first interaction with Coraline was on the 8th of May, 2009. My ninth birthday and the film’s release date. I hadn’t heard of the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman, and didn’t until many years later. Still it was, and remains, one of my favourite movies. I’ll be the first to admit that context is everything, the fact that I saw the movie first is probably a huge factor in why I like it more. Nonetheless, this is the hill I have chosen to die on.

The story, if you need a refresher, follows Coraline as she discovers an entrance to a parallel universe through a tiny passage in her new house. The other world is like her own, but better. The food is nicer, the colours are warmer, the garden is more lively, her parents have more time to spend with her. It seems perfect until she discovers that her other mother has constructed this world as a way to trap Coraline’s soul.

The story is mostly the same in the novel and film, and both do a great job of building horror and suspense and terrifying their audience. Laika’s (the animation studio who made the film) visuals are stunning, the stop motion animation is incredible. There are so many frames from the movie that have burned themselves into my memory. Likewise, Gaiman’s writing is fantastically frightening, for a children’s novel it really does not hold back.

Where they differ is in their characters and their focus. The novel is plot focused, the characters don’t get much opportunity to grow. The movie is character focused, and gives Coraline loads of room to grow.

Gaiman’s Coraline, is kind and polite. The only thing that seems to irritate her is when people pronounce her name incorrectly. As soon as she enters the other world she knows something is up. The painting of the boy in the other house looks devious and the other mother’s appearance is unsettling from the get-go, so Coraline is immediately suspicious. The exciting story of her out-witting the other mother is prioritised over exploring or developing her character.

In the movie, Coraline is less of a model child. She talks back, she’s not as kind to her neighbours and she takes a lot longer to question the other world. Which gives us more time to get to know her and understand her flaws. The movie’s other world is better at hiding its true nature. The boy in the painting is crying in the real world and happy in the other world. When Coraline first meets the other mother she appears normal apart from the buttons. In the movie, Coraline falls for the charm of the other world, which makes the other mother more of a threat, and creates a more compelling world and story, in my opinion. At the end of the film, after Coraline has escaped and defeated the other mother, we can see what she’s learned from the experience. She organises a garden party for her neighbours, she seems generally happier with her lot, she isn’t mean to Wybie any more (who doesn’t feature at all in the book).

What can I say? I like it when characters have an arc. The book does what it does brilliantly. It tells a terrifying story about an intelligent and resourceful young girl. The movie takes that story and makes it about a girl who starts out crass and learns kindness, who starts out naive and learns not to take things at face value. The movie has more to say, so I enjoy it more.

What do you think? Have I made a strong enough case defending my preference or should I still be exiled? Come along to our screening of the movie with Knit Soc in the Eliz room at 7 pm on Halloween and let me know.