Too many of the characters I’ve featured here were created by men, and today’s is no exception. In fact, it took two men to bring this beautiful feminist character to her full potential: Neil Gaiman for the book and Henry Selick for the movie. It’s been too many years since I’ve read Gaiman’s horror story for children, but Selick brought the story to life in stylized stop-motion animation. It’s the only movie I’ve ever truly enjoyed watching in 3-D. (The effect is somewhat lost on me being both nearsighted and farsighted. Talk to me when you’ve invented prescription 3-D glasses.)
Coraline is a perpetually misunderstood 11-year-old with dark blue hair and light blue nail polish. Hers is a story of being careful what you wish for. She’s lonely and bored when her overworked parents move her to a 150-year-old house in Oregon where her upstairs and downstairs neighbors are old and eccentric and think her name is Caroline. Her parents are too busy writing a gardening catalog to pay attention to her, much less cook a decent meal and unpack. She has no one to talk to until her new frenemy Wybie gives her a doll he found in his grandmother’s trunk, which looks just like her down to the canary yellow rain slicker. She claims to be too old for dolls but lets this one explore the house with her, including the small, wallpapered-over, locked door in the living room. The door leads nowhere in the daytime, but when night falls the upstairs neighbor’s circus mice lead her through it to a much better version of the home and family she just left.
Her Other Mother prepares a Martha Stewart-worthy meals and, rather than clacking away on an ancient green-and-black computer, her Other Father improvises songs on piano that are all about her. For three nights she’s showered with the kind of attention she craves in the real world, from a magical garden in the shape of her face to awe-inspiring performances from her Other neighbors where she plays a starring role. Of course everything goes horribly wrong, and she has to rely on her wits and a cranky talking to cat to save her parents, a trio of ghost children and herself. The movie is almost completely nonviolent, but that doesn’t mean it’s not scary and suspenseful, at least by little kid standards. Coraline escapes from danger using her problem-solving skills and a well-aimed cat, not by kicking ass. And that’s all too rare, even in movies meant for tweens.