Coraline (2009)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V-2 ; L-1 ; S/N-1. Running time: 1 hour 41 min.

Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight;
for I give you good precepts:
do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me, and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the
words of my mouth.
Get wisdom; get insight.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
Proverbs 4:1-6

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.
Genesis 3:6

The Other Mother, unlike her first mother, cooks for Coraline.

2009 Focus Features

Director/writer Henry Selick brings to 3-D life the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman. Coraline, and make sure you get the “o” right or she will quickly correct you. The stop-motion animation film is the first 3-D animated film, and this time 3-D is more than just a gimmick: it really contributes to the aliveness of the characters and their environment, the latter which is transferred from the England of the source to the state of Oregon. The film’s dark story has a touch of Genesis’ Temptation and Fall story, Pandora’s Box, Alice in Wonderland, and Pan’s Labyrinth—and its view of the modern family is less than optimistic.

Eleven year-old Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is less than happy that her self-absorbed parents have uprooted her from her friends and school in Michigan and moved across the country to an old Victorian apartment house that looks like it came out of a Charles Addams tale. The tenants in the other apartments are as creepy as the house. Mr. Bobinsky once was in vaudeville with a trained mice act, and Miss Spink and Miss Forcible are retired actresses.

Coraline’s parents are very different from the parent depicted in the book of Proverbs. They have no advice or wisdom to pass on because they have no time to spend with her, always saying when she tries to get their attention, “I’m really, really busy.” They write about gardening, even though they seem never to be engaged in it, and one of them hates dirt

Caroline is bored, and the strange hunchbacked boy she meets Wybie is no help. His peculiar name is short, he tells her, for Wyborn, a name which makes one wonder about his parents also. The lonely Coraline, who has become somewhat of a brat, longs for a better world, and soon she thinks she has found it. Awakened one night by a mouse, she discovers a hidden door leading to a tunnel. Crawling through it, she comes upon an alternative world in which her Other Mother and Other Father welcome her, lavishing all the attention on her that she had longed for. Other Mother cooks for her, and Other Father has all the time in the world to play with her. The only discordant note is that Other Mother and Father have buttons sewn on rather than eyes. We soon see why the poster for the film warns, “Be careful what you wish for.”

The fact that Selick directed The Nightmare Before Christmas should serve as a warning to parents of preschool children—some scenes could be nightmare inducing. Though spooky, there are some incredibly beautiful scenes, such as a garden which lights up at night with glowing pumpkins and flowers. But if you have a young child, do heed my warning: this is one family film that really should be seen as a family. It is definitely not just for children.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What kind of a person is Coraline when we first see her? Not the sweet girl of The Little Princess, is she?

2. What is it that Coraline wants the most? Do you know parents like hers, too busy with their own lives to spend time with their child(ren)? What happens sometime when parents neglect a child?

3. What temptations does Coraline face in the film? How is the alternate world the fulfillment of her wishes? How is it a narcissistic world? For example, in the beautiful garden scene, what do we see when the camera pulls back for an aerial view of the garden (that is, whose face does it form)?

4. How does our childhood always start out narcissistic? Have you also dreamt of a world in which all your wants and wishes are fulfilled? Would this really be good for us? What do we call the process of growing out of this until we are concerned about others as well as ourselves?

5. What role does the cat play? A call to reality, sort of like a conscience?

6.What do you think the author meant by having the Other Mother and Father have buttons instead of eyes? How might this be similar to what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount: “‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” ? (Matt. 6:22-23)