The world is a scary place for children. Everything is so big, so new, so dangerous. And yet, what do adults do? They assure toddlers that the world is really a safe place. Get home before dark, look both ways before you cross the street and never talk to strangers. Aside from those few pointers, grown-ups promise youngsters that there’s nothing to fear.
That’s what I love about Coraline: it tells kids that there is a whole lot to fear. There are scary things out there, both of this world and others beyond ours. Henry Selick’s masterpiece (and I think it’s fair to call it a masterpiece), based on the book by Neil Gaiman, is a horror film about kids for kids. While adults love it, it appeals to young people in a way that only an animated film could. It lures you in with its gorgeous visuals and cute characters, then tosses you headfirst into a macabre, twisted world full of monsters.
One of the film’s many strengths is its simple relatable plot: a young girl is moved from her hometown to the woodsy outdoors of Oregon. Far from friends and the big city, young Coraline wishes things were different. She yearns for a family that understands her and doesn’t steal her away from her only friends. And what do you know, she gets that. Traveling to a parallel world, Coraline finds that dream family. Only it’s too good to be true. Of course it’s too good to be true.
The themes and morals of Coraline are universal and familiar: be careful what you wish for, be thankful for what you have, etc etc. But that’s fine, even the best scary stories have some things in common. When was the last time you heard a truly original campfire tale? What sets Coraline apart are the stunning animation and the way it gently pulls you into its universe. Like a dream quickly becoming a nightmare, the movie transforms from childish fare into a legitimately scary picture.
True, Coraline won’t terrify you like Night Of The Living Dead or The Shining but, like the best horror films, it examines the most basic of fears. Who isn’t afraid of losing their family, especially after a heated argument? You can be 75 years old and the thought will still make you shudder. A grandfather could watch Coraline with his granddaughter and they’d each be scared by the same things. There’s a genius simplicity in that.
Obviously there are many scary movies that young people can’t watch. You’re not going to show your kid Alien until they’re good and ready. The same goes for The Thing and 28 Days Later and…well, pretty much all of them. Not Coraline. Coraline is the movie I’d show to a kid just starting to get into horror. While it might lack the violence, gore and foul language of others in the genre, it’ll still scare you. It’s the first scary movie you could show your kid. How sweet is that?
Raised on a steady diet of horror movies and comic books, Brandon has been talking about films his entire life. Brandon is the Managing Editor over at VeryAware.com.
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