CoralineWritten and directed by Henry Selick, from Neil Gaiman's novellaStarring Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Keith David and John HodgemanRated PG*8*
Goes well with: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Snow White, BeowulfIt's hard to pin down exactly what Neil Gaiman does. Back in the 1990s, he established a huge fan base with his groundbreaking Sandman graphic novels. In recent years, the public has adored him for his books, screenplays and films based upon his work. In 2007, a film version of his novel Stardust was released, along with Beowulf, for which he wrote the screenplay. Just a week ago, he won the Newbery Medal, the award for Outstanding Children's Book, for his most recent novel, The Graveyard Book. He's also returned to writing comics—the final issues of Batman, come out later this year. Oh, and on Friday, the animated big-screen version of Coraline, his 2002 Hugo-award winning novella, lands in theaters.
“It's so strange,” Gaiman tells CityBeat. “I sometimes feel like the world, for much too long, has been trying to figure out what little phrase should go between the Neil and the Gaiman, as in, how you would explain me. For a while I got to be Neil Gaiman, the writer of comics and graphic novels. Then I got to be Neil Gaiman, the science-fiction writer, once I won the Hugo, and then I got to be Neil Gaiman, the horror writer. I suspect that having won the Newbery, people will describe me as ‘children's author Neil Gaiman'—which will puzzle the hell out of anyone who reads American Gods or Sandman, because those aren't children's fiction.”
Directed by Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas), Coraline is like much of Gaiman's work—inventive, funny and kinda scary, putting ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Dakota Fanning voices the title character, a lonely little girl whose overworked parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgeman) move her to a creepy house where she finds a door to a parallel world populated by her Other Mother, who has buttons for eyes. But unlike her real mom, Other Mother dotes on Coraline—before trying to keep her in Bizarro World forever. Things quickly go from a beautiful paradise to a frightening hellscape as Coraline finds that Other Mother is seriously creepy and very dangerous.
The film was made with stop-motion animation and is in 3-D, the first of the latest crop of 3-D films, for me at least, in which the technology complements the story rather than being a gimmick that stands apart from it.
“It's as if, for the last 50 years, filmmakers, when given 3-D, have gone, ‘Great, you can throw things at the audience,'” Gaiman says. “Henry used it to recede things away from the audience. He defines spaces with it. It's no longer about an illusion of reality, and it's not about throwing things at you. He uses it incredibly subtly, to define the difference between Coraline's real world, which is slightly flat, and the other world, which is magic.”
While the execution is gorgeous, the film itself gets very dark. But is it too dark for today's kids? Gaiman thinks that maybe we don't give them enough credit.
“We're living in a world right now in which you turn on the Disney Channel and you wind up watching 22 minutes of Disney television,” he says. “And the plot normally hinges on a birthday party that somebody finds out about, but they think they haven't been invited. Then they discover they were invited all along. And everybody hugs. I think, actually, kids can take a lot more than that. I don't think there is anything in Coraline that is darker, creepier or harder to cope with than the original Snow White.
“When people say, ‘My kid is,' and they insert an age and ask if that's too young for Coraline, I have to say, ‘Look, I don't know your child,'” Gaiman adds. “It's like coming to me and saying, ‘I'm making a mushroom omelet tomorrow—will my 6-year-old like it?' I don't know your 6-year-old. I don't know if your 6-year-old likes mushrooms. I think if your kid can hack The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Wizard of Oz and Snow White, your kid will have no problem with Coraline. You, on the other hand, may be traumatized.”