Author: Neil Gaiman (novel)
If you haven’t read the book, you’ll probably think this film is okay or pretty good. If you’re a fan of the book, however, you’ll come away disappointed. That’s a shame, for the animation is fabulous. The 3D version is worth the trouble and it is well suited for this kind of stop-motion animation. The level of detail is astonishing. For instance, in one scene a character pours coffee and though the mugs are a tiny part of the overall screen, I could see a droplet of coffee splash out of the cup and trickle down the side. That was realistic and considering the difficulty of implementing something that subtle via stop-motion is impressive. Unfortunately, the writer changed much of what was good about the book. Why, I’m not sure. I thought it might have been to make the story long enough as the film feels padded over the first half, but then the last third feels rushed, which is weird. The two main problems I had with the story modifications — spoiler warning — are 1) a new character, a boy Coraline’s age, is added. This goes completely against the whole point of the book, which is that she is lonely and alone and bored. Inserting this superfluous boy changes the dynamic of Coraline’s character, and not in a good way. People who haven’t read the book wouldn’t notice this, but book fans will be horrified. 2) The terrific ending in the book, where Coraline outsmarts the witch, is changed to an accidental victory (with a little help from the idiot boy). Why? Why? Why? I find this change incredibly shocking as that aspect of the book’s plot was terrific and really showed that Coraline was an intelligent, above average girl. She’d gotten a bit lucky throughout the rest of the story and so for me, that ending was crucial to the novel. In the movie that “fate” aspect is made even worse, with Coraline receiving help and good fortune and hardly doing anything on her own. At least the book had foreshadowing and made events look plausible; here stuff happens without any logic behind it at all. Despite these writing flaws, the movie did improve on several problem areas of the book. For instance, one area that troubled me about the book was how quickly the “alternate world” Coraline discovers turns sour. I wanted to see her more tempted by that world and her “other mother,” not almost immediately want to go home to the real world. The movie does this superbly well, with Coraline visiting her Other Mother several times and the place initially being very pleasant and only gradually showing a darker side. There were a few other places were the film script fixed minor issues with the novel, but I still don’t understand why they made those two crucial changes which pretty much ruined the film for me. It’s very sad because there’s so much to like. Many of the “boring” parts of the book are some of the film’s best scenes: the bizarre theatre of the actresses, the circus mice performance, Other Father’s piano song, the whole garden scene (which is not in the book at all but wonderfully illustrated). These are areas where the film enhances what the book only sketched. One of my favorite things was the whole spider motif of Other Mother, with her parlor web and her hand becoming an artificial metal claw that by the end of the film is independent of her and looks extremely spider-like. Certain things like that are absolutely classic and put this among the best films of all time. But the destruction of the author’s writing is absolutely criminal and ruins what could have been a fantastic work. It’s such a shame. In short, if you’ve read the book, see this just for the animation and be prepared for disappointment and you’ll come away pleased. If you haven’t read the book, go to be entertained and you will be impressed. Don’t expect the greatest film of all time, as the weak areas do show through, but expect an average story and you’ll get it.