Children’s films that explore the dark realm of adult manipulation are few and far between, possibly because the thought of grown-ups betraying kids for their own selfish reasons isn’t a popular selling point in Hollywood. Which makes Coraline all the more interesting and rare, since director Henry Selick dedicates his entire visual framework to such a lasting nightmare.
Throughout the film, perception and reality are constantly at odds, making Coraline’s journey between two parallel worlds a deceptively dangerous process. On the one hand, her displeasure with her real parents seems mundane, more an annoyance for such a smart girl looking for active interaction. But Coraline’s eagerness to accept the pleasures of the fantasy world is unsettling, when the Other Mother brings about a dynamic surface beauty in every room, even in the plush and colorful garden that bears a familiar resemblance. The shiny facade of blue, red, and orange hues cover The Other Mother’s need for extreme connection, ownership, and control, that no matter the cost the body and soul will remain captive for her eyes only.
Selick creates a number of memorable images to compliment this dynamic – the buttons on the eyes, the sewn mouth of one boy aching to verbally communicate, and the falseness of vibrant color in the garden, an apt metaphor for how modern day blockbusters lull us to sleep with pleasurable inconsequence. In Coraline, the beauty of reality lies in the grays and blacks of everyday life, where ups and downs are personal reminders of how families work and succeed. Trust the process kids.