We are huge Neil Gaiman fans in this household, and Coraline is currently my six-year-old daughter's "favorite book ever," with her second-favorite being Russell's graphic novelization of Coraline, so there was no question of our family not going to see Henry Selick's new animated feature film based on Gaiman's book.
Neil Gaiman is an incredibly accessible writer for anyone with an internet connection. He blogs, he Twitters, and he uses all manner of social media, and uses it well. It was on his goodreads profile that I read the following update:
the movie is out in the US this week. If you're putting it off, I
should remind you that we only have the 3D screens for another couple
of weeks, and then The Jonas Brothers 3D movie will come in and take
Putting aside how very, very wrong it is for Gaiman, in any form, to be usurped by The Jonas Brothers, this nudge was all it took for me to hustle my family over to an IMAX theater in the next county with all due haste, to be sure we got the full 3D experience. And OH, am I glad that we did! Before I say one word about the movie's content, please let me impress upon you that this 3D? Is not your parents' 3D. WOW. This was not about hokey, "coming right AT you" gimmick shots sprinkled into a "regular" movie. Selick used the RealD technology to give each and every frame of this film a real, palpable depth. It wasn't about fakey-looking stuff protruding into your space, it was about creating a world on the screen that looked and felt as if you could step right into it, if you so desired. It was, in a word, magical. If you intend to see the movie, I can't plead the case for the 3D version strongly enough.
For others of you who are deeply invested in the fidelity of book-to-film adaptations, there are some very interesting things going on here. At the risk of being slightly spoiler-ish, I think I can safely tell you that Selick's film adds a character, created from whole cloth just for the movie. At first blush, I was taken aback by this new kid on the block--a boy Coraline's age named "Wybie"--what was he doing there? But I quickly realized that Coraline spent much of the novel alone, and that we as readers were privy to her thoughts...and that this is tricky, at best, to pull off in a movie. So Selick created a foil for Coraline. All right, I can live with that. And he was a natural addition, not at all awkward. by which I mean that if you didn't know he didn't belong, you'd never know he didn't belong.
What DID bother me about the new character was that, by his actions, something of Coraline's self-sufficiency and courage, as written by Gaiman, was lost. When my six-year-old daughter made notes on Coraline for her goodreads page, she put it this way:
"I like Coraline. I hope I would be as smart and brave as she was, if I needed to be."
Notice that she did not say, "I hope that there would be a boy around to help me." The film makes Coraline just a touch less of a feminist, which may or may not be a big deal to the viewer. The outcome is still rewarding and thoughtful, and the message remains the same. At the core of that message is a struggle that I'm sure every parent will recognize at once, expressed artfully by Glennia Campbell in her review of "Coraline."
"Coraline's main complaint against her parents is a familiar refrain.
"You never listen to me," she whines to her mother. I'm not sure I
know any child (or adult for that matter) who hasn't said or felt that
sentiment at one time or another. What Coraline does for parents is to
point out that the simple act of listening, and not necessarily
indulgence, is what children really want."
One of the main issues I see and hear being discussed with this film is that of how "dark" or "scary" it is, and for what age range it's appropriate. Gaiman himself provided "The Wizard of Oz" guideline: If your child can handle "The Wizard of Oz," he or she can probably handle "Coraline." This is something that I feel is just going to vary widely from child to child, and you as a parent know your child best. I didn't hesitate to take my own daughter, despite her young age, mainly because she'd read the book more than once already. The book did offer a creep-out factor, and my daughter did have a night or two where she swore she could hear the Other Mother's disembodied hand scratching at her window, but it was a giddy sort of thrill for her, not a night-terror version. After all, the delight in being frightened, as children, goes back to the brothers Grimm and beyond, to every story told by firelight to every child who listened with big-eyed anticipation, simultaneously dreading and hoping for the appearance of the monster. Nancy Graham distills, rather gracefully, the themes of fear and dread in "Coraline" in her review.
"While the idea of Coraline is truly terrifying—a girl is left
alone to rescue her supernaturally abducted parents—its creators have
allowed the idea to carry most of the weight of emotion, as with the
best fairy tales, and haven’t piled onto it with 3D shock effects or
long, anxiety-provoking suspense sequences."
Kids who have already read the book have a couple of things going for them as far as how frightened they'll be by the film: First, the fertile imaginations of most children have, upon reading Gaiman's words in print, conjured up much scarier images in their own minds than anything that can be projected on the screen (the book version of the Other Mother was truly terrifying, and the final scene with the Other Father in the book out-creeped the film version by miles). Also, being familiar with the story going in to the film, the child knows, on the front end, how things will turn out, which can't help but inform them when it comes to the depth of danger in which Coraline finds herself.
I do feel that the trailer is a really good gauge as to the mood of the film. If this 2-minute clip is too intense for your child, then you're probably better off waiting.
One additional note about the handiwork showcased in the stop-motion animation: This film is a crafter's dream come true! The details will amaze you, and thanks to the high-definition digital RealD, you'll be able to really appreciate them.
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