Coraline (2009)

Rated: PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor.
Length: 100 minutes
Grade: BBBB=B
Budget: $60 million

Box Office: $142 million (75 U.S., 42 Intl., 25 DVD)
Written by: Neil Gaiman (Beowulf, Stardust, Mirrormask, and, of course, the brilliant comic book series Sandman) and Henry Selick on the screenplay.
Directed by: Henry Selick (Monkeybone, James and the Giant Peach, Nightmare Before Christmas)
Starring: The voices of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, Ian McShane, John Hodgman, and Robert Bailey Jr.

A young girl is frustrated with her parents neglecting her until she discovers that the new house they have moved into has a secret doorway into an alternate universe where her “other” mother and father shower her with the love, attention, and food she desires. Unfortunately, things there turn out to be not quite as rosy as they first seem.

Entertainment Value: B
You’ll be thinking Tim Burton at first here, and the similarity between Selick and Burton is hard to ignore. This has a slightly cool, slightly creepy tone about it from the start. The animation is beyond brilliant, and the thematic premise is wonderful. On the other hand, trying to make sense of it all in the end eluded me, and even though it’s a movie whose theme is best digested by younger kids, I though it was a bit too scary for my boys. If you ever read Grimm’s Fairy Tales or similar stuff, you’ll notice that they’re pretty gruesome, really. Well, within that genre, this movie fits quite well, although without some of the elegant simplicity of those stories. But showing such stuff is often much more frightening than merely reading it.

Superficial Content: B-
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity B-, Violence C+, Language A-
There’s one sort of creepy scene where two women are performing a kind of burlesque and not wearing very much clothing on their exaggerated (but unsexy) bodies. I think the real issue here is violence, scariness. For instance, there are some creepy ghosts, a scary spider, threats against a girl, and (probably the worst) a constant depiction of people with their eyes replaced by giant sewn-on buttons and the presentation of a demand that Coraline sew buttons into her own eyes. Some people might also be bothered by the fairly constant presence of supernatural stuff and possibly even witchcraft/magic. This is just barely PG, and I would be a lot more comfortable with PG-10 or even PG-13.

Significant Content: B
Real parents may have their flaws, but at least they are what they seem to be. Sin always tempts us into believing we can have everything our selfish selves want with no real consequence. When you follow your idols, they will always ask you to make massive sacrifices that cost more in the end than you think they will. Things are not always what they seem. Loyalty requires putting yourself at risk to protect those you love.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
Okay, the themes and good and the artistry is brilliant. On the other hand, here’s what neither my wife nor I could figure out: Who is this movie made for? It’s too scary for young kids. It’s too lame for older kids. And it’s certainly not interesting enough for adults. So who is the audience? In a way, though, you might say that this movie is a lot like the “other mother” in that it gradually becomes more and more frightening until it’s downright scary at the end. But a movie for kids just shouldn’t be that way.

Discussion Questions:
~A paradigm-shifting movie is one in which the circumstances of the character don’t change, but the character experiences a revolutionary breakthrough in perception which changes his attitude toward those circumstances. In what ways is Coraline such a movie? Do you think movies like this are helpful in getting us to have such improved perspective on our own circumstances and lives? Can you name some other movies that function like this?
~Would Coraline have been better off obeying her mother and not rescuing the key again?
~What do the buttons on the eyes in this movie symbolize? In what way is vision a key element of deception? How is this reinforced by the circus and burlesque performers?
~If it’s true that we’re all prone to being deceived, especially by our eyes, what tools do we have to avoid the dangers of such deception?
~To what degree is this movie preaching a doctrine of hell? Even though the “other” world is so much nicer, what is intended by the presentation of it as both small and also having nothing around it?
~Is “other mother” the devil? What function does “other father” have here? Why does this movie seem to emphasize women so much?
~When you were a kid, did you find fairy tales scary? Do you think fairy tales are more or less meaningful when seen rather than read?
~Do you think it’s healthy for kids to learn that life is scary and even horrific at an early age, or is it better for them to be sheltered from that side of life for awhile?
~As a parent watching this movie, what does it remind you to be more attentive about regarding your children?
~Normal Wybie (like many parts of her normal life) is very annoying to Coraline. How is annoyance an important part of what we need to be unselfish? In what ways is the “other” world a true depiction of how we would all refashion our worlds if we could exert our selfishness fully? What does the Bible have to say about this impulse? Is it possible that difficult people in our lives are actually a gift from God? For what purpose?
~If you were to preach a sermon using Coraline as an illustration, what would you say?

Overall Grade: B
I don’t think I can recommend this to anyone, but if you like the other movies by Selick and Burton, you’ll probably like this one. Definitely not for young kids, maybe for older ones and adults.

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