Sometimes you know you’re going to be disappointed by a book-to-movie translation, especially when you loved the book. I mean, let’s face it, that’s most of the time. The characters aren’t the way you imagined them (or sometimes they’re missing altogether), or the plot got Hollywoodized, or you wonder why the main character had to be American instead of British (The Dark Is Rising, I’m looking at you.)
But sometimes you know you’re going to love it. And that was how I felt about Coraline. I loved Neil Gaiman’s quite unbelievably spooky story, and when I heard there was going to be an animated film of it, I knew in my bones it was going to be great.
Coraline is a dark fantasy. It’s the story of a young girl, bored at home, whose parents love her but don’t pay much attention to her, barely looking up from their computers when she comes in the room. So when she finds a secret door in her house that leads to a mirror image of her world, where her Other Mother (an ominous double of her real mother, with black buttons for eyes) dances attendance on her, cooks delicious food, and creates magical wonders just for her, how can she resist? There’s just one problem: her Other Mother doesn’t ever want her to go back to her real parents, and Coraline must be brave and resourceful to rescue herself (and others) from what becomes an increasingly frightening trap.
The film was wonderful. The animation was superb — beautiful, startling, unusual — and the voice-overs from Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher were outstanding. They did create one new character, who I thought actually detracted from the film, but not too badly. They kept both the terrible, eerie sense from the book and the humor; they made Coraline strong and brave without minimizing her danger. So I highly recommend this film… for grownups. Neil Gaiman has famously said that grownups find this book more frightening than kids do, since kids read it as an adventure. I’m not sure I believe that, but as a grownup, I can’t test my hypothesis. But it’s scary, people, and it’s scary not because of gore or severed limbs, but because of the story it tells. Now that’s a rare pleasure, in this day and age.