Coraline (2009)

I am not quite certain what I think of this movie, really. When the trailers for it came out it did not appeal to me, but on a whim I decided to rent it because of its Burton-esque touches. I love Tim Burton. He can do dark and goth like no body’s business. This production is by a buddy of his, the talented director who gave us all the creeps with The Nightmare Before Christmas. And… I had the same reaction to it as to that film: fascination along with a tiny bit of unease.

Coraline is based on a best-selling novel not-necessarily-for-kids. Why? It’s too creepy. How creepy? We’re talking dolls that spy on you creepy. Ghosts creepy. Talking cats creepy. Okay, maybe that last bit isn’t so creepy. Coraline and her family move into the main floor of a large old plantation house. In the basement are two eccentric has-been actresses who stuff their dogs after they pass away, because they cannot bear to part with them. In the attic lives a washed up circus entertainer who has a lot of pet mice running around. Coraline is mostly ignored by her workaholic parents and discovers a door leading into an alternate reality in which her parents are loving and kind. The only difference is they have buttons for eyes. Coraline cannot wait to visit them each night and when she wakes in the morning, she is home again with her “real” parents. Eventually, her “pretend” parents start hinting that she might want to stay in their world — to the concern of the mangy black cat who follows her around.

For the first twenty minutes or so I was captivated and — I admit it — in love with this production. It was so surreal and neat in appearance. Coraline skipping along in her bright yellow raincoat with the black cat following at a distance, and stumbling into a ring of mushrooms that surround an old covered-over well. Then she found the doll. And things started getting creepier. Almost too creepy for me, and that’s saying a lot considering I love Sleepy Hollow as much as the next Tim Burton fan girl. Some things sit with me better than others do. And ghosts don’t sit well with me, so I was downright uneasy when she stumbled across the three ghosts living in the hidden room in the house and they begged her for help. I’m not sure if that was my own uncertainty or my spiritual radar going off. I have a weirdness tolerance level that is fairly high but that Tim Burton and his buddies have crossed on more than one occasion. Beetlejuice is one example. The Nightmare Before Christmas is another. Something about The Corpse Bride unnerved me as well, and I always fast-forward the part in Sleepy Hollow where they consult the witch in the woods.

Recently, I took a course on spiritual gifts with my church and reaffirmed that spiritual discernment is one of my talents. I can sense if something is a bit off… and something about Coraline is a bit off. I think it is more than the creepiness. I liked its messages and the underlining lessons therein, that Coraline should be careful what she wishes for, that our parents are actually more precious to us than we know, and that evil is always lurking in the shadows waiting to exploit the desires of our heart. If something is too good to be true, there is probably a dark side to it. That wonderful, sparkling world of rich food and adoring parents was not her reality and therefore merely an illusion, a twisted version of what she wanted most. But Coraline found out pretty fast that often what you want is not what you need. Her wish for the boy next door to leave her alone and shut up revealed to her extreme cruelty and misery (the boy in the alternate reality could not talk; her “Mother” had literally sewn out his tongue).

Often the devil will first convince you of what you want and then set about providing it for you… but the happiness only lasts a short time before it is replaced with dissatisfaction or an unquenchable desire for more. All of these arrangements come with strings attached. There is a sacrifice to pay for everything achieved. Mother’s price for Coraline was the removal of her eyes. She wanted to put button eyes in and prevent her from returning to the real world. Whatever price evil demands of us will be just as invasive — it might cost you family, friends, your self respect, your knowledge of right and wrong, great guilt or untold difficulties. Once you compromise yourself he has you. Fortunately, Coraline had a friend — that mangy black cat — with wisdom on his side to help her rescue her parents and escape with her life. Not only that, but to free the other children who wandered into this alternate reality of eerie illusions.

Creepy or not, the movie leaves us a lot to think about. And even though portions of it did not sit right with me, I cannot help but smile remembering the delightful animation and the adorableness of the girl with bright purple hair and a yellow raincoat.

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