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The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

Why Coraline is worth your time

Johanna Wen
In the original book, the story of Coraline was set in England. In European folklore, it was believed that buttons were capable of warding off evil spirits or witches. While it was regarded as a form of protection, buttons in the film are ironically not serving that same purpose.

When you were nine you watched Coraline. You were terrified.

The Beldam’s creepy, lilting voice made your heart seize. The seemingly inexplicable small door haunted you. Glossy black button eyes watched you as you slept.

When I saw Coraline for the first time, I too was transfixed with fear. But more than that, I was fascinated.

The Other World was magical, so mysterious. And then I began to notice things. Small things, like the lightning during the dinner scene. It was shaped like a claw, quickly descending from the sky. It looked eerily similar to the Other Mother’s claw hands made of needles. I scoured that scene over and over, wondering if I was just crazy. But then something else caught my attention. Right behind Coraline, in the same scene, were three framed silhouettes of children’s heads. Three children symbolic of the ghost children who had let the Other Mother ‘sew the buttons’.

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Two suspiciously placed easter eggs in the same scene. That couldn’t be a coincidence, right? And it isn’t. Henry Selick, the director of Coraline, said that nothing in Coraline is a coincidence. Coraline is chock full of sneaky easter eggs and complex characters, and paying attention to these details makes for a truly mesmerizing experience.

First up is the Other Father. This bumbling and goofy character is probably the least scary character in Coraline. In reality, he’s basically a slave to the Other Mother. He’s very friendly to Coraline, making jokes and singing to her. But as the movie progresses, the Other Father becomes more and more disheveled. His long face goes droopy, his stance more tired. Eventually, he becomes stumpy and orange with leaves sprouting from his head, closely resembling a pumpkin. He transforms into what might be his true form, just like the Other Mother transforms into a spider-like being (more on that later). The Other Father’s deterioration illustrates how the Other Mother is slowly showing Coraline the reality of the Other World. But one more thing: the Other Father attacks Coraline during the game of hide and seek and says, “I’m so sorry. Mother making me. I don’t wanna hurt you!”. It’s clear here that the Other Father is being controlled by the Other Mother. The way he moves when attacking Coraline is also suspicious; his arms swing forward almost uncontrollably, almost as if he were a puppet on a string. But even while the Other Father is being controlled, he still warns Coraline about the Other Mother during his iconic song:

“Making up a song about Coraline
She’s a peach, she’s a doll, she’s a pal of mine
She’s as cute as a button
In the eyes of everyone who ever laid their eyes on Coraline
When she comes around exploring
Mom and I will never ever make it boring
Our eyes will be on Coraline”

Calling Coraline “a doll,” and saying she’s as “cute as a button,” is definitely ominous, but what’s even creepier is the last line. “Our eyes will be on Coraline,”? The Other Father is telling Coraline that she’s being spied on. So, while it’s undeniable that The Other Father is against the Other Mother, he is nevertheless at her mercy.

Speaking of the Other Mother, who even is she? Well, in the original Coraline book (which the film is based on), she is known as the Beldam. If this name seems familiar to you, that’s because one of the ghost children refers to her that way (insinuating that she might have been known as the Beldam in the past, but is now known as the Other Mother). Also, the word ‘beldam’ means witch, meaning that the Other Mother’s inexplicable powers could be witchcraft.

So the Other Mother is based off the book, but get this: the book is based off a poem. La Belle Dame sans Merci, or The Beautiful Lady Without Pity, by English poet John Keats is about a knight who is left by a mysterious woman. The knight, clearly in love with the woman, is left by her when she lulls him into a peaceful sleep, only to awaken and find her gone. Much like how the Other Mother tucks Coraline into bed, and when Coraline wakes, she is alone and in the real world. It’s as if the woman from the poem and the Other Mother were only a dream. Also, the woman is described as “A faery’s child,” with “wild eyes,”. Being known as a faery’s child could be another way of referring to the Other Mother as a witch, and her wild eyes could easily hint at the buttons she so proudly displays.

And one more thing about the Other Mother: she doesn’t eat. Throughout the movie, in dinner or breakfast scenes, Coraline’s plate is full and the Other Father has a plate piled with food. This is possibly a reference to how the Other Mother controls him, only allowing him to eat in front of Coraline. Without Coraline, he starves, giving him another reason to try and protect her. But the Other Mother’s plate is empty in every scene. The only thing she eats throughout the whole movie is the chocolate beetles, which she proudly declares have been imported from Zanzibar when offering them to Coraline.

We later find out that everything in the Other World has been created by the Other Mother. Nothing exists there without her (except for the cat, who is from the Real World). So, the beetles aren’t even real, instead a figment of the Other Mother’s world. But Coraline is real. The ghost children warn Coraline of this, saying that letting the Other Mother sew buttons into their eyes prompted her to eat them. The Other Mother is desperate to do the same to Coraline. Based on when the last ghost child was eaten, the Other Mother hasn’t eaten for 49 years (if you’re wondering why the Other Father can eat the food that isn’t real when the Other Mother can’t, remember that the Other Mother created him). The Other Mother’s desire for control makes her want to possess Coraline and the ghost children by sucking the life out of them by eating their souls.

To figure out who the ghost children were, I used the fleeting mentions and context clues the movie gives. It’s pretty obvious that one of them is Wybie’s great-aunt, based on the photo he shows Coraline and how the little girl looks just like one of the ghost children. We don’t know anything about the other children, except what they looked like. But we can actually use the clothes they were wearing to guess the time period they were taken by the Other Mother. And what do you know? The clothes the ghost children were wearing match up with a very specific timeline: Spink and Forcible’s candy bowls.

Spink and Forcible present a very odd conspiracy theory. When Coraline first visits them, they read her tea leaves and predict “grave danger,” in her future, among other things. Then, they give Coraline the triangular jade piece she uses to find the eyes of the ghost children, helping her out immensely. Finally, they offer her bowls of aged candy from the years 1921, 1936, and 1960. Each of these three years match up with the time periods of the clothes the ghost children wore. So, are Spink and Forcible hinting about the Other Mother, or are they simply doing all of this by accident? Personally, I believe they’re in on it. Like Henry Selick said, nothing is a coincidence.

One last thing: the movie is set in Ashland, Oregon. Ashland is known for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and for being the home of the oldest Elizabethan theater in America. This might seem like some random fact, but it could explain why Spink and Forcible are so obsessed with theater, and why they recite lines from Hamlet when performing for Coraline. Isn’t it a little suspicious that Coraline is influenced by two famous English poets: William Shakespeare and John Keats? These ties to historic English literature further confirm that the Other Mother is La Belle Dame.

Now for a few fun easter eggs in the movie. If you look closely in the dirty tunnel returning Coraline to the real world, you can see items of clothing scattered about. The clothes match what the ghost children wore, meaning that they tried to escape through the tunnel as well, losing a few articles of clothing, but more significantly, their lives.

More well known is the message written in icing on the cake the Other Mother presents to Coraline in her first trip to the Other World. The lettering reads: “Welcome home!”. Simple enough, right? Wrong. In graphology, or the study of handwriting (usually in relation to a person’s character), looping an ‘o’ once means that whatever is being said is true. However, looping twice in an ‘o’ means it’s a lie. On Coraline’s cake, there’s one loop through the ‘o’ in ‘Welcome’, but two loops through the ‘o’ in ‘home’. This means that while Coraline is welcome in the Other World, she isn’t actually home.

Mr. Bobinsky, the eccentric and blue upstairs neighbor of Coraline, actually has a reason for being blue. Pinned onto his dirty undershirt is the Russian Hero Medal. But not just any Russian Hero Medal – it’s specifically the medal Russians received for cleaning up the Chernobyl disaster. This means that Mr. B not only cleaned up at Chernobyl, but turned blue because of the radiation.

And now for my favorite fun fact about Coraline. You know the soft, eerie music that plays throughout the movie? The words are impossible to make out, yet seem almost familiar. My inexperienced ears thought the soundtrack was in French or something. But while the songs are sung by a children’s choir, the lyrics aren’t in any decipherable language. The words are pure nonsense, meant to transport the audience to an alternate world. The Other Mother’s world.

What Neil Gaiman originally intended to be a scary story for his daughters has evolved into one of the most detailed films of all time. Not only is Coraline incredibly complex for being a stop motion film, but the creative choices and minor details make Coraline one of the most mysterious yet attention grabbing movies out there. So, if you’re looking for a spooky movie to transport you into another world, Coraline is it.

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  • M

    MarianneNov 10, 2023 at 8:01 pm

    Wow! I was not familiar with this movie but now I want to see it! So interesting.

  • C

    Claire BNov 10, 2023 at 7:44 pm

    Such an interesting article, Hannah! Literally read through it so fast just soaking everything in. I remember when I watched the movie when I was little, and I had hard time falling to sleep for weeks ? Thank you for sharing how intricate the movie really is! I have to rewatch it now just to catch all the little details 🙂 Also it’s really impressive how you found out all this info. Great job!

  • A

    Aimee LickermanNov 8, 2023 at 8:27 pm

    Great, very well-written article! Makes me want to watch Coraline now!

  • R

    RachaelNov 8, 2023 at 5:39 pm

    Wow, I learned so much about Coraline and the hidden and not so hidden messages. Great story!

  • T

    TanviNov 7, 2023 at 6:42 pm

    Love this! I used to love this movie as a kid so i enjoyed reading this!

  • G

    GraceNov 7, 2023 at 1:45 pm

    awesome story!

  • S

    Sophia ZhaoNov 6, 2023 at 9:41 pm

    Amazing graphic! I love the movie coraline

  • C

    Clarissa LiNov 6, 2023 at 5:47 pm

    Lovely graphic and lovely story 🙂