The Temptation of Coraline

From the opening creepy imagery of a puppet being broken down stitch by stitch and made into a new image, Coraline promised an inventive, slightly macabre ride. Based on the eponymous book by Neil Gaiman (The Eternals, Sandman, Beowulf), the dark fairy tale was brought to life by stop-motion auteur, Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas).

Coraline and her parents move into a 150 year old house. Missing her friends and her old way of life—and with her parents not having time for her, as her father who is always writing (*whistling to myself as I am squirreled away in my office to type this*)—Coraline is lonely. Children are at that age of imagination and magic, and like in Pan’s Labyrinth or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (mysterious door in an old house? Sounds like a familiar set up), she’s transported to a magical land.

“The dreams aren’t dangerous.” –Coraline

In Coraline’s case, hers is an alternate world of Bizarro-parents who are the opposite of the ones she knows. They have time to play with her, be with her, and give her everything she wants. This scenario plays into a common fantasy we have as children, that we don’t belong to our families. That we have different/real parents who are spies, super heroes, or wizards, or are otherwise leading a better or cooler life.

“You probably think this world is a dream come true.” –Cat

This magical place is a world about her. It’s her name spelled out by the mice circus. It’s her portrait as the garden. Her every need or whim is met, included boys “fixed” to be silent and her favorite meals cooked. It is quite the temptation to stay in such a narcissistic world.

“It’s the empty part of this world.” –Cat

The Belle Dame/The Other Mother only wanted something to love in her own twisted way . She didn’t want a relationship, she wanted an altar built to herself. Another person to use up and service her. Sure, she appears as an angel of light, but only to lure unsuspecting little girls into her web of deceit. Her spider-like machinations are a lie.

“Everything’s right in this world, kiddo.” –Other Father

The question you would have to ask yourself is what kind of person would such a world form you into? A spoiled, self-involved, and self-focused creature, and even still that wouldn’t be the end of the cost. Lured away with treasure, treats, and games to tempt you to another life, The Belle Dame sews buttons for your eyes as she eats up their lives, stealing, their soul.

“They say even the proudest spirit can be broken with love.” –Belle Dame

Coraline wants to be real, to be fully human, to find a true way of seeing and break free from her life of unintended consequences of selfishness. But her’s isn’t a harsh sin. She simply wants parents with time to play in the gardens and live in her fanciful world. Like all children, she simply wants parents who take the time to know her.

Ideally, parents aren’t perfect but do the best they can. They aren’t always able to be in the moment, distracted by the pressures and responsibilities of life, and always promising to make it up to their children. But it’s hard to make up for time lost. This speaks to the power of a parent’s presence.

Like most parents, I worry about the men my boys are going to be and how best to train them to be the kind of men they ought to be. It’s easy for children to point to the faults of their parents. We’re human, a smorgasbord of failings, but we try the best we can. The power of presence means being there to listen and talk to our children, because being there is most of the battle.

I could totally envision Coraline directed by Guillermo Del Toro as a live action. A cautionary tale about the perils of getting what you want, it might be too dark for the youngest audience members. In fact, I thought it might be too slow moving and sophisticated for kids, as the book was a deep and rich story that often defies expectations. However, I watched the movie beside my seven year old son, who was totally engrossed in the movie the entire time (3-D helped). His report: “Coraline was scarier than The Nightmare Before Christmas, because it never made me jump. But I liked it, especially the garden scene.”

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