Mother’s Day Special: Coraline

Happy Mother’s Day 2014, everyone!

Being a parent has got to be one of the most thankless jobs out there. For mothers especially. They carry a whole new life inside of them, bring it into the world through no shortage of blood, sweat, and tears, then set about preparing that child for the life ahead of them.

They don’t get paid in money. They get paid in tantrums, dirty diapers, teenage rebellion, and, later, abandonment.

Well, okay…not abandonment. Every kid has to leave at some point. If your kid is living in your basement at forty, it may be time to talk out some new arrangement.

But even after all the insanity mothers go through, they get a wonderful, yet bittersweet gift: the sight of a job well done (hopefully), and the realization that everything has changed. Their babies aren’t their babies anymore. They won’t need them like they used to.

Oh well. Kids are gone! Cruise time, baby! 🙂

That isn’t to say that being a mother was all pain, but it’s no cakewalk, and we kids can be pretty forgetful sometimes. Not ungrateful, but spoiled. We see a very limited, one-sided view of things for a while. We butt heads; moms vs. daughters, sons vs. fathers. Switch it up from time to time, and there you go. That’s a family.

So for today, I’d like to talk about another movie I love. A movie for kids, with a kid protagonist, who learns to appreciate everything, and everyone, that she has. Especially her mother.


*Note: No, I haven’t read the book yet, so this isn’t a comparison. Maybe someday.

The titular character, Coraline, is a kid from Michigan, whose parents, Charlie and Mel Jones, “write about plants, and (they) hate dirt.” Often busy with their deadlines, they don’t have a lot of time for her, especially as they deal with moving into an old apartment building in Oregon. There’s a lot to get done, and only so much time to do it.

Unimpressed with the rundown apartment and the eccentric neighbors, Coraline grumbles to her parents repeatedly, who, in turn, tell her to go play elsewhere. A bit neglectful, maybe, but they’re doing the best that they can. Kids watching the film will probably miss that, at first, just like Coraline does.


Mel is the sterner of the two, a woman with a very dry sense of humor, who keeps the family on track with what needs to be done. Charlie is the goofy, inept, but lovable dad, when his face isn’t glued to the computer screen. For the minute or so of screen time that these two get per scene, they offset one another’s personalities very well.

But Mel is clearly the one playing the disciplinarian most often, as we see particularly in one early scene, where Coraline goes behind her back to try and get permission from Charlie so she can garden in the rain and mud.

“What’d the boss say?”


“Well then, you won’t need the tools.”

Kids these days, am I right?

Coraline is given a strange doll that bears her likeness, then discovers a small, locked door against the wall of the room.


Coraline movie image

What looks to be a passage between the houses, sealed up with bricks by day, is actually a doorway to a parallel world. A place where everything is more fantastical, colorful, and fun, with everything centered on keeping Coraline happy. She meets her “other” parents and neighbors, all with buttons for eyes, and despite being initially uneasy in their presence, thinking she’s in a dream, Coraline warms up to them quickly and realizes that the place is real. As she starts to seek the world out herself, rather than just be summoned to it, she complains more and more that this “other” life is better than her real one.

“But it’s all a trap.”

The world was constructed by a being known as the beldam, or the “other mother,” a witch with the power to transform herself and her world as she likes, ensnaring children so that she can feed and steal their souls. This she does by sewing buttons into the children’s eyes.

Are you having fun yet, kids?
Are you having fun yet, kids?

She’s kind and accommodating at first, telling Coraline that she could stay in this world forever, but only if she accepts the buttons. Coraline denies this and manages to escape, with the help of the spirits of previous trapped children,

More delightful nightmare fuel!
More delightful nightmare fuel!

but discovers that her real parents are gone, stolen away by the other mother. To save them, she returns to the world and challenges the other mother to a game that will save everyone. The ghost children, Mel and Charlie, and Coraline herself.

It’s a kids’ film, so I’m sure you can guess that it ends well, but it’s a very chilling tale nonetheless. I could do a whole other review of it when Halloween rolls around. It’s one of my personal favorites ever.  🙂

But back to mothers.


Coraline is repeatedly frustrated with her real mother, who in turn feels frustrated with her. Neither person is perfectly happy, and the other is barely helping them with that.

The other person, that is. Not the other mother.

The other mother uses the situation to her advantage, spying through doll eyes to find out what Coraline dislikes and what she can do to improve it. She gets Coraline to forget what she has, and in the end, Coraline realizes how lucky she is to just be alive and safe with her family.

Anything taken for granted will make you regretful when it’s gone.

Coraline is unhappy, viewing everything selfishly like the kid that she is. She’s forced to move away from friends, to a whole new place where everything is broken down and weird, and her parents are snappish and ignorant of her. She doesn’t see that things will get better, that she will adjust to new friends, a new school, and a new life.

At one point, she wants her real mother to buy her a pair of gloves that she takes a liking to, but her mother says no. Coraline was thinking that the gloves would help her stand out in an otherwise boring school uniform, showing off just a little bit of her personality. She wants the gloves, thinking they’ll help ease her transition into a new school, and was sure her mother would buy them for her. It’s gloves after all, not video games or a flat screen t.v.

Now, Mel probably decided to stick to her guns when Coraline was rude and didn’t take no for an answer, but we kids have all had those moments. You know, where parents say no for what seems like no real reason at all. It makes no sense and is so frustrating!

This doesn’t make her a bad person, just shortsighted and young. She doesn’t know all the things that her parents are going through, nor is much of it shown to us, the audience; all of the stress they’re facing, and how much harder she makes things by not cooperating. It doesn’t help that the other mother is spoiling her so she can eventually eat Coraline’s eye-soul.

One of the hardest lessons for a parent to learn is that sometimes, disciplining your children is more important than making them happy. Even if you love them and want to be their friend, you’re a parent first and foremost.

But none of the real members of the Jones family are completely at fault. They’re just victims of the circumstances.

Among the other things that I love about this movie, I love the real feeling of the relationships, the initial (kind of) tragedy of Coraline’s one-sided point of view, and the growth of Coraline as a character, as she rises to the seemingly impossible challenges before her.

Coping with her loss, before she realizes where her parents are.
Coraline coping with her loss, before she finds out where her parents are.

She realizes why she loves and needs her parents (by facing a short time when they aren’t neglectful, but completely gone), feels genuine regret that she wanted to abandon them for a superficial unreality, and even ventures back into her nightmares in order to save them.

And in the end, her efforts are rewarded, but unacknowledged. Her parents don’t remember anything.

*cough cough* Spoliers….not really *cough cough*

Coraline is an inventive, stop-motion puppet horror flick, a cautionary modern fairytale that doubles as a great coming of age adventure. Even if some kids watching the movie don’t see the real-life parallels with their parents, I certainly did. Maybe they are just to busy peeing their pants.

*Note, again: If you are a parent reading this and are trying to decide whether or not to let your kids watch this movie, make sure they are mature enough to handle it. Not old enough, because age can very depending on the kid, but definitely mature enough. It can be plenty nightmarish for crybabies, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t ever be viewed.

If, somehow, I had traipsed off to some fantasy world where everything was sunshine, rainbows, and…buttons, I wouldn’t have grown up at all. And, you know, died.

Kids and adults alike can enjoy this movie, and take away their own unique messages if they pay close attention. There’s a very real danger in shutting yourself out of the real world, staying a child inside for the rest of your life. Fantasies are fine, but not when they rule you.

As a wise wizard from another magical movie once said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

So, yeah. Life isn’t always great, and situations aren’t always ideal. People you love will sometimes let you down. We’re all human beings; making mistakes is what we do. I’ll probably make a million with my kids one day.

But Coraline reminded me that bad times don’t last forever, that it’s good to be skeptical (“if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”), and that a life of balance is a happy, healthy one. Be a kid when you’re a kid, and an adult in the proper time.

And maaaaaaaybe my mom may have helped me see that a little bit, too. Maybe even that goofy dad of mine. 🙂 Who knows?

All pictures come from the movie, which is owned by Laika, Pandemonium, and distributed by Focus Features and Universal Pictures.


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