DVD Release Date:  July 21, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  February 6, 2009
Rating:  PG (for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor)
Genre:  Fantasy
Run Time:  100 min
Director:  Henry Selick
Voices of:  Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Ian McShane, John Hodgman, Keith David, Robert Bailey Jr., Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French

Coraline poses an unfortunate conundrum.  Its cinematic qualities are spectacular and many; its themes important and biblically sound.  Nevertheless, its content and tone—which are nightmarish, among other things—make it inaccessible for many kids (or, at least, would cause concern for the average Christian parent).

That two-sided quality is, in a sense, fitting as that is the very nature of this story.  Based on Neil Gaiman’s novella, Coraline comes to life in the stop-animation universe of Henry Selick (director of previous stop-motion classics like The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, and others).  It is the story of a girl whose family has relocated to rural Oregon in an old house/triplex called “Pink Palace Apartments” that rests on a hill.  She misses her friends; her parents—both writers—are caught up in their work, and Coraline feels neglected and alone.  She does not like her world.

A local boy named Wybie—too energetic for Coraline’s tastes—makes various attempts at friendship, one of which is the gift of an old burlap doll with black-button eyes.  It belongs to his grandmother, a woman who once lived in the Pink Palace and warns her grandson to never go there.  Wybie thinks Coraline will appreciate the doll because, eerily, it resembles her.  Little does he know what Coraline soon discovers:  the doll is mystically connected to a parallel world where everything is the same, but better.  The surroundings are beautiful, the atmosphere magical, and her parents loving.

Well, her “other” parents.  Referring to themselves as “Other Mother” and “Other Father”, they are better-looking and acting versions of mom and dad with one unsettling distinction:  they have black-button eyes, just like the doll Coraline was given.  This unsettling mutation is tempered (even forgotten) in the wave of love and generosity they extend.  They prepare wonderful meals, play beautiful music, and the Other Father has even made a colorful, vivid garden in Coraline’s honor.  They promise her that this world, this life, can be hers forever under one simple condition: she allows them to sew black-button eyes over her own so that she may become like them.  A small price to pay for a perfect life, no?

Coraline comes to learn what we already suspect: things—and her Other Parents—are not as wonderful as they seem.  Their true natures are, in fact, sinister.  They are evil spirits appearing as angels.  And to its credit, this revelation is where the thematic power of Gaiman’s story is found.  Though not intentionally, it serves as a perfect parable about Temptation as we understand it biblically. 

We wish for what we don’t have, dream of idealistic illusions, and before we know it The Tempter is offering us (or so it seems) what we long for.  But these temptations will be our ruin, not our salvation, the cost of which is our very souls—and the realization of that brings maturity through new perspective.  We now see things we once hated in the light of truth, seeing past the imperfections of people and circumstances that once clouded our view of their real value and love.