Coraline movie review & film summary (2009) | Roger Ebert (2024)

The director of "Coraline" has suggested it is for brave children of any age. That's putting it mildly. This is nightmare fodder for children, however brave, under a certain age. I know kids are exposed to all sorts of horror films via video, but "Coraline" is disturbing not for gory images but for the story it tells. That's rare in itself: Lots of movies are good at severing limbs, but few at telling tales that can grab us down inside where it's dark and scary.

Even more rare is that Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) is not a nice little girl. She's unpleasant, complains, has an attitude and makes friends reluctantly. Nor does she meet sweet and colorful new pals in her adventure, which involves the substitution of her parents by ominous doubles with buttons sewn over their eyes. She is threatened with being trapped in their alternate world, which is reached by an alarming tunnel behind a painted-over doorway in her own.

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Not that Coraline's own parents are all that great. They're busy, distracted, bickering and always hunched over their computers. They hardly hear her when she talks. That's why she recklessly enters the tunnel and finds her Other Mother and Other Father waiting with roast chicken and a forced cheerfulness. All she needs to stay there is to have buttons sewn into her own eye sockets.

"Coraline" is the new film by Henry Selick, who made "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993) and again combines his mastery of stop-motion and other animation with 3-D. The 3-D creates a gloomier image (take off the glasses and the screen is bright), but then this is a gloomy film with weird characters doing nasty things. I've heard of eating chocolate-covered insects, but not when they're alive.

The ideal audience for this film would be admirers of film art itself, assuming such people exist. Selick creates an entirely original look and feel, uses the freedom of animation to elongate his characters into skeletal spectres looming over poor Coraline. Her new friend, Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.), is a young hunchback whose full name is Wyborn, and it doesn't take Coraline long to wonder why his parents named him that.

The Other Mother and Father (voices of Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman, who are also Father and Mother) essentially want to steal Coraline from her real but distracted parents and turn her into some kind of a Stepford daughter. Their house, which looks like Coraline's own, has two old ladies (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French) in the basem*nt, boarders who seem in retirement from subtly hinted careers in the adult-entertainment industry. The upstairs boarder is Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane), a sometime vaudevillian who has a troupe of trained mice. One of the rooms of the house has insects bigger than Coraline who act as living furniture.

It's more or less impossible for me, anyway, to be scared by 3-D animation. The process always seems to be signaling, "I'm a process!" I think it's harder to get involved in a story when the process doesn't become invisible. I hear from parents who say, "My kids didn't even notice the 3-D!" In that case, why have it in the first place?

Kids who will be scared by the story may not all be happy to attend, 3-D or not. I suspect a lot of lovers of the film will include admirers of Neil Gaiman, whose Hugo Award-winning novel inspired Selick's screenplay. Gaiman is a titan of graphic novels, and there's a nice irony that one of his written books has been adapted as animation.

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I admire the film mostly because it is good to look at. Selick is as unconventional in his imagery as Gaiman is in his writing, and this is a movie for people who know and care about drawing, caricature, grotesquerie and the far shores of storytelling. In short, you might care little about a fantasy, little indeed about this story, and still admire the artistry of it all, including an insidious score by Bruno Coulais, which doesn't pound at us like many horror scores, but gets under our psychic fingernails.

Credit is due to those who backed this film. I'm tired of wall-to-wall cuteness like "Kung Fu Panda," and wonder if Selick's approach would be suited to films for grown-ups adapted from material like stories by August Derleth or Stephen King.

And perhaps I didn't make it clear that it's fine with me that Coraline is an unpleasant little girl. It would be cruelty to send Pippi Longstocking down that tunnel, but Coraline deserves it. Maybe she'll learn a lesson.

Film Credits

Coraline movie review & film summary (2009) | Roger Ebert (2)

Coraline (2009)

Rated PG

100 minutes

Cast

Dakota Fanningas Coraline

Teri Hatcheras Mother/Other Mother

John Hodgmanas Father/Other Father

Ian McShaneas Mr. Bobinsky

Robert Bailey Jr.as Wybie

Jennifer Saundersas Miss Spink

Dawn Frenchas Miss Forcible

Keith Davidas Cat

Written and directed by

  • Henry Selick

Based on the graphic novel

  • Neil Gaiman

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Coraline movie review & film summary (2009) | Roger Ebert (2024)

FAQs

What is the summary of the movie Coraline? ›

What is a short summary of Coraline's book? ›

The story revolves around Coraline and the strange experiences she has after she and her parents move into an apartment in an old house. Coraline must save herself and her parents from the evil forces that threaten them. Coraline by Neil Gaiman is recommended for ages 8-12.

What's the whole point of Coraline? ›

“Coraline” explores themes of deception, illusion, and the dangers of succumbing to appearances, reminding audiences to question what lies beneath the surface and to trust their instincts when something seems too good to be true. So let's dive in.

Is there an inappropriate scene in Coraline? ›

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including: One of the retired vaudeville performers that live in a basem*nt apartment under Coraline's house repeatedly shows a lot of cleavage. Her breasts take up half her body and are bulging out of her clothes.

What is the main message of Coraline? ›

The strong themes in this story are home, appreciating what you have, and courage. Coraline realizes in the story that her home, though imperfect, was the one she loves and would never leave. She also learns how to be strong and depend on herself to fight for those she loves.

What is Coraline about summary sparknotes? ›

Coraline is a novella for young readers by Neil Gaiman. It was published in 2002. The novella tells the story of Coraline Jones, who finds a doorway to a parallel, sinister otherworld inside her new home, and must battle the evil "Other Mother" who lives there to secure her family's safety.

What is Coraline's mental illness? ›

As these are critical parts of the plot, it is best to formulate Coraline's behavior along a psychotic-dissociative spectrum. At this stage in our formulation, it is best to arbitrarily choose Schizophrenia as a provisional diagnosis.

What happens at the end of Coraline summary? ›

Coraline narrowly escapes through the door, severing the Beldam's hand, which slips through to the real world unnoticed. The snow globe back home is broken, and Coraline's parents are freed. They have no recollection of the ordeal, but having finished their work, they spend more time with Coraline.

What is the creepy story behind Coraline? ›

To understand the theory, it's important to know what the Other Mother actually is. She is referred to as a 'beldam,' which is a very old malicious woman and a witch. The Other Mother is a shape-shifting demon whose goal is to lure children into the Other World and entice them to stay so she can feed on their souls.

Is Coraline about grooming? ›

Coraline warns perfectly against dangers of online grooming for an overlooked child. But why online grooming specifically and not all types of grooming? Of major significance is how hidden it is from the parents.

What actually happened in Coraline? ›

By the end of the film, Wybie and Coraline defeat the severed hands of Beldam, and throw the key in the well, and close it. The movie ends on a good note with her real mother buying her the gloves she wanted, throwing her a garden party, and being nice to her, which is kind of fishy.

Why do they call her Caroline instead of Coraline? ›

When Gaiman began writing the story in 1990, Coraline was initially a typo of the name he had intended to call his curious young heroine: Caroline. But Gaiman liked the looks of it and felt the character take shape, so he kept Coraline.

Why did Coraline get banned? ›

Coraline is, however, a “challenged” book: challenged because of its scarier themes and because some consider it inappropriate for the age group it's intended for (the age of its title heroine, Coraline, which is never clearly stated in the book but seems to be between 10 and 13, if we can judge by the movie at all).

What is the scariest scene in Coraline? ›

During the "One, two, three!" scene, the Other Mother is not happy with Coraline's demands. We see her morph into half beldam, half other mother. This is easily the scariest scene of the film, and there are plenty of contenders. When the Beldam screams "DON'T LEAVE ME!

Is there anything bad in Coraline? ›

Violence & Scariness. The movie has a very dark, creepy tone overall, and the Other Mother sometimes takes on a frightening appearance. It's implied that she has killed at least three children. Her minions try to catch Coraline and the Cat, but they don't succeed.

What is the story behind Coraline? ›

One rainy day, Coraline becomes interested in a strange door that opens up to a brick wall. The brick wall vanishes the next day and the door leads to a corridor. When Coraline explores it, she finds that on the other side is a parallel universe that is a mirror image of the one she just left behind.

What are the main events in Coraline? ›

Summary
  • A New Apartment. A young girl named Coraline and her parents move into a new apartment. ...
  • The Other Apartment. Coraline decides to open the door again while her parents are away days later. ...
  • Escape and Revenge. The next day Coraline proposes a game to play with Other Mother.

Why does Coraline have button eyes? ›

The Other Mother makes her final and most vicious attack on the souls of those trapped within her web by controlling their eyes. The eyes are considered the windows to the soul, and the Beldam uses this to her advantage. For Coraline to remain in the world, she must allow her eyes to be stitched over with buttons.

What happens to the kids in Coraline? ›

Coraline understands their plight and decides to stand up for them, redeeming herself to be better after her meeting with them. She finds their real eyes, and they eventually pass into the afterlife, freed from the Beldam's control.

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