Coraline (2009) isn’t exactly a “Halloween movie”. In fact, there’s no mention of Halloween at all. Despite this, Coraline’s resemblance to a lot of children’s Halloween movies has solidified its presence in my mind as a part of the same genre. Its participation in this genre, however, is extremely unique. Most children’s movies surrounding the holiday have a touch of spookiness to them, while still maintaining a classical sense of adventure and fun. In Coraline’s case, however, that touch of spooky is decidedly creepy and, at times, downright terrifying. That’s why I believe Coraline should never have been marketed towards children.
Compared to other children’s Halloween movies, such as Casper (1995) or Halloweentown (1998), Coraline presents kids with not only deeply disturbing concepts, but also particularly horrifying visuals. Don’t get me wrong, the movie’s stop-motion animation style is impressive and quite beautiful at times. That being said, for a PG-rated film that had a whole marketing collaboration with Nike to create hip new basketball shoes, the lengths to which the animators went to make certain characters appear unsettling were a tad extreme.
Not only do half of the characters have soulless, button eyes, but most of them have unnerving bodily proportions that make even morally good characters appear sinister. In particular, the transformation of the Other Mother into her final form seared itself into my memory as a small child. I can still clearly picture her spindly limbs, the way her ribs seemed to protrude from her body, her skeletal, pointed features, and her grey, cracked skin. This visual alone made me perpetually afraid that my own mom would turn out to be my real-life Other Mother and would morph into an inhuman creature out to sew buttons on my eyes.
To repeat, I am in no way saying that the artistry of the animation was poor, rather that it was almost too well done in its creepiness. Now, one could bring up the point that the animators were only going off of what Neil Gaiman’s original book described the characters to look like. I wholeheartedly agree, yet I don’t believe that this portrayal matched the movie’s rating and intended audience appropriately.
Going back to the comparison of this film to other children’s Halloween flicks, I failed to see where there were aspects of pure fun in this movie. Even when Coraline is shown enjoying herself, there’s always something disconcerting about the people involved or the situation. As a child, I never felt fully comfortable watching this movie, always worried that something strange or upsetting would happen.
Coraline features uniquely disturbing concepts. In a good number of children’s films, the parents of the child die or something else tragic upends their way of living. In Coraline, something else unsettling occurs. Coraline’s parents are still alive, but she encounters another version of her parents, ones that treat her well until she refuses to be mutilated by them. They then subsequently spy on her, threaten her, and try to kill her, all while still looking like the parents whom she’s supposed to trust. As a concept, it’s brilliantly complex and interesting, but as part of a plot for a children’s movie, it’s a little intense.
If this movie had been marketed to an older age group, I probably wouldn’t have as much issue with it. That being said, there are plenty of kids who saw this movie and didn’t freak out like I did. As it stands now, Coraline to me is a beautifully animated movie made for entirely the wrong audience, though it’s still better to me than Return to Halloweentown (2006).