The world of children’s films is a dangerous territory to navigate. The director of a children’s film, more than any other, is forced to create two very separate movies with a single film. By that I mean, there is the director’s obvious duty to entertain the children of the film, but one mustn’t forget about the parents as well. While most directors manage to achieve this by providing clearly adult-themed jokes that go over the heads of their unsuspecting children, there is one director who comes to mind who has managed to engage a child’s sense of wonder with the adult sensibilities of good storytelling. That director is none other than Henry Selick who, with his 2009 film Coraline managed to captivate young and old alike.
Coraline exists as a rare breed of film that manages to engage visually as well as thematic. In terms of the visual element of the film, it’s certainly a recognizable one. For those familiar with Selick’s previous works, such as The Nightmare Before Christmas or James and the Giant Peach, they will recognize the very pronounced style. It isn’t just the use of stop motion animation that makes the work seem so familiar, but his use of other visual cues as well. One strong example is the color palette of the film itself, which is particularly reminiscent of The Nightmare Before Christmas. But that isn’t the work of Selick alone. A good deal of the visual power should be attributed to the original creator of Coraline, author Neil Gaiman. Gaiman, who’s foray into comic books with the Sandman series, seems crucial in exploring his strong visual inclination. Both director and source author seemed to work together to create an intoxicating world that is sure to delight younger viewers while offering an older audience the stark contrast between the real world and the Other world that propels the story forward.
After all, as much as I enjoy the labor of love that is Coraline, it is the unsettling nature of the story that immediately drew me in. While the visuals are certainly compelling, and an integral part of the story, the concept behind Coraline is what I found so enchanting. It’s simultaneously wondrous and creepy, creating an odd sort of confusion about what the viewer is supposed to be feeling. Truth be told, the film’s greatest success when it comes to the storytelling is in its set-up. The real world that Coraline finds herself in is so dismal and ordinary that it’s easy to see why the appeal of the Other world, in all its eerie wonder, would seem like a welcome alternative. As the movie continues on and the Other world continues to get darker, the audience knows that Coraline should stay away, but we also understand why it’s difficult for her to leave behind. These two conflicting sensibilities enrich the storytelling in a way that escapes definition.
What’s so fascinating about Coraline is that, without this proper blend of the two components of the film, it wouldn’t be half the film it is now. It relies on this visual element enhancing the story and vice versa. Many films in recent history have attempted to do this same thing, but few have succeeded with such a task. One always seem to overtake the other, but it is Coraline‘s blend that helps it to become an extraordinary example of children’s filmmaking that engages on an adult level as well.