100 Scope Notes
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Movie Review: Coraline


Directed by Henry Selick
Starring (the voices of) Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman, Ian McShane
Rated PG
In Theaters

What you’ve got here on your screen is a children’s literature blog. So if I watch a movie based on a kid’s book, you best believe I’m gonna be comparing the two. Actually, this review (and I use that term very loosely) will likely make even less sense if you haven’t read Neil Gaiman’s book. Times listed below are wildly approximate. I didn’t have a watch on, so I made my best guess about what happened when.

7:10 – Walking into the theater, checking out the Coraline poster. Nice poster. It sets the spooky tone properly. Coraline is looking into the door. The little door. Smaller than in the book, but it’s still working for me.

7:15 – Preview time. Ice Age 2 (or is it 3? It’s 3) and Monsters vs. Aliens. Nothing book-related to see here folks. Both use computer-generated animation, which is nice and all, but I’m getting ready to kick it old school with stop-motion for the next hour and forty.

7:22 – Opening credits. Yeeah boiii! The visuals are on point. The sequence shows the “Other Mother” sewing a Coraline doll. Everything looks good. I’m realizing that this format, due to the hand-made nature, always makes me marvel at how they created the shots. Is this distracting? Not sure, but I’m enjoying it.

7:25 – We see Coraline for the first time. Again, well done (prediction: I’ll be saying variations on this statement often). You can see some similarities to The Nightmare Before Christmas in her skinny limbs. Her voice fits. No complaints.

7:30 – New Character Alert. Wybie appears and helps Coraline find the well. I’m glad I decided to read some reviews earlier today, or else Wybie would have been a complete surprise. I can’t say I’m a fan of added characters, but I’m willing to wait and see how this one fits in.

7:40 – Did I not pay close enough attention while I was reading, or are there a lot of small differences from the book here? Were both parents writers? They are in the film. Coraline’s dad is spot on – John Hodgman (aka the “I’m a PC” guy) does a good “mildly aloof” voice. Coraline’s mother is a little more inattentive than I remember, but it fits with the story. Dad is wearing a Michigan State sweatshirt – I have no qualms with that.

7:50 – Still no formal introduction to Miss Forcible, Miss Spink, or Mr. Bobinsky, but Coraline is making her first trip to the other world. I’m excited here – the story is really starting to get underway.

7:51 – When Coraline opens the little door, a tunnel expands to the other world. It kind of reminds me of a really big, fluffy vacuum hose. There are even some cobwebs and dust in there to complete the look.

7:53 – This is great. The other parents are just how I pictured them. Friendly, but just a little off. The button eyes are creepy – intended effect successful!

8:02 – Alright – Mr. Bobinsky is introduced. He’s more of an acrobat here than in the book, and also more inhuman with blue skin and very exaggerated proportions. But the voice is well done and his appearance fits with his seemingly crazy mental state.

8:10 -Did I mention that the black cat is great? He’s been popping up here and there. A little more friendly than in the book, but still doing his own thing.

8:22 – Wait, did I just see pasties!? (Rubbing eyes, blinking, taking a second look) Yep! Coraline just watched Miss Forcible and Spink’s performance in the other world, and there they were. I did not know the words scantily clad and stop-motion could be used in the same sentence, but used together they are. Don’t worry about the kids though, it’s more funny than anything else. A bit of a jaw-dropper nonetheless.

8:28 – Here’s the big turning point. The other parents just offered to keep Coraline and sew on the buttons. You can feel the change in their tone and the spookiness is stepping up. The music is reflecting that too.

8:35 – The Other Mother just threw Coraline behind the mirror where she finds the ghost children. I’m guessing they used computers to create these characters – they are transparent and look like there’s some kind of “ghost effect” going on. The story kicks into high gear as Coraline gets out and discovers her parents have been stolen.

8:40 – Coraline just made the bet with the Other Mother, and is hunting for the lost children’s eyes. Things are moving quick here.

8:48 – Best shot of the film so far. Check out the wallpaper curling up on the walls as Coraline and the cat go to confront the Other Mother. Amazing. The reason? Coraline just obtained the last eye (with the help of the black cat, who wins the “coolest voice” award), and the other world is falling apart.

8:52 – The sequence where Coraline finishes off the Other Mother is outstanding. Exciting, thrilling stuff. Not much to add here – it’s just like the book.

9:00 – Oh, right. I forgot that the story isn’t over yet. The Other Mother’s hand comes back for the key. Wybie reappears to help end the story. I think I preferred the book, where Coraline doesn’t need saving, but Wybie’s appearance does make for an exciting conclusion.

Overall, the film version of Coraline was very good. When the visuals are this accomplished, it’s hard to find too many faults. The changes that were made from the book helped the film. If you’re looking for a shot for shot adaptation, you’re not going to find it here – but you’ll be pleased nonetheless. Absolutely recommended both for fans and nonfans of the book.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.



  2. Amused at you thinking her voice fits. You forgot the big change of Coraline the book (British) and Coraline the film (American). I think a more fitting voice would have an English accent. Why’d they have to go change her nationality? Can American audiences not cope with British accents?

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