Why Coraline Remains Such a Treasured Cult Classic

Coraline (2009)

If you’re a cinephile, you’ve probably been hearing about Coraline quite a lot this past week. Its two-day theatrical rerelease grossed $4.91 million, ranking it third behind Barbie and Oppenheimer and above Mutant Mayhem, Meg 2, and Haunted Mansion, and garnering it two additional screening dates this August 28th and 29th.

It’s clear as freshwater how much people love and adore this film, but how did it get its dearly dedicated fanbase?


The Greatness of Children’s Horror

For a lot of people, Coraline was their introduction to horror films, but even if you were well-acquainted with the genre, the film is still something of a unique offering. To a lot of people, children’s horror feels like an oxymoron and most “scary” Hollywood kids’ films aren’t scary at all, with entries like The Witches and Hocus Pocus 2 more comedic and zany than they are creepy.

However, many horror fanatics will attest to loving the spooky and sinister even when they were much younger, and with the crowdedness of scary kids’ books, it’s a wonder why children’s horror is such a barren film genre — especially when Coraline proves just how celebrated and beloved movies of the genre can be. Based on a scary kids’ book by Neil Gaiman, Coraline’s PG rating meant the title had to rely on strong atmosphere and suspense if it really wanted to frighten audiences of all ages, and it does so better than many horror films meant for adults.

Coraline’s world is utterly breathtaking in every sense of the word. It’s creepy enough to make your skin crawl, yet mesmerizing enough to make you understand why Coraline would want to revisit it over and over. The film uses its young protagonist to its advantage by framing the Other World through the eyes of a kid: filled with stunning plays, magic gardens, and dancing mice, of course a kid like Coraline would be obsessed with coming back here.

And yet, the movie makes it clear to audience members both young and old that something malevolent is going on here, that all the splendor this world has to offer is most likely just smoke and mirrors. The slow burn approach and contemplative tone, mixed with the eerie music and haunting look of the button eyes, warn us that not everything is as it seems, and that cruel things can be hiding behind every nook and cranny Coraline passes by. It’s a genuinely unsettling experience all throughout, but one that sticks with you long after you watch the end credits roll.


Stunning Stop-Motion Animation

The craftsmanship that goes into making a stop-motion animated film is jaw-dropping. Neil Gaiman said so himself, “I think the thing that impresses me most, just because it was the thing that I hadn’t realized: absolutely everything you see on the screen, somebody’s made.” From building thousands of hands to finding creative ways to make the puppets move to making tiny fake sets look alive and gigantic, every stop-motion project — be it a short film, a show, or a movie — is nothing less than a miracle.

Coraline, especially, is one of the most beautiful-looking stop-motion animation films out there, as every frame is an unmistakable work of love and art. This film was initially considered to be live-action and thank God that never pushed through, because stop-motion is the absolute best fit for this film. Its world only seems both more unsettling and enthralling thanks to its animation style.

Half of the runtime is you furrowing your eyebrows wondering how they were able to achieve such an animated scene, the other half is your jaw agape at all the wonders you’re seeing right in front of you. Regardless of having seen the behind-the-scenes features, I’m always going to be floored by so many of Coraline’s scenes, like the magic garden scene or the play scene — the end results feel like black magic, and the attention to detail is staggering.

It only makes too much sense, then, why people would flock to see its theatrical rerelease, even if the film is readily available for physical and digital purchase. Coraline is a visual delight that truly deserves to be seen on the big screen.


Well-Deserved Nostalgia

Coraline’s nostalgia is rightfully earned. As aforementioned, it was a lot of children’s introduction to horror, earning them a newfound passion that would follow them well into their teen and adult lives. However, it was also the film that introduced a young generation to stop-motion, as it remains the highest-grossing non-British film of that animation style.

Coraline was also the animation studio Laika’s first feature film, and the studio would go on to make even more beloved stop-motion titles like ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings. While they’ve never reached Aardman heights with their releases, they’ve developed a seriously strong following from fans that adore the dedication they put into their craft, as well as their willingness to venture into children’s horror.

Most importantly, Coraline, as both a film and a story, just feels timeless, its characters and world every bit as likable and enthralling as when you last spent time with them. It feels both older and newer than 14 years old, seemingly a movie that could’ve been released in any decade.

It’s a combination of great storytelling and distinct art style: Coraline boasts a well-crafted dark fantasy from creative genius Neil Gaiman, but it also boasts animation that seems unrestricted by technology and therefore incapable of aging. You can see how much 3D animation has advanced by comparing the visuals of Frozen with Frozen II, but Coraline, Shaun the Sheep Movie, and The House all feel visually right at place beside each other, despite having been released in different respective decades.

“Stories you read when you’re the right age never quite leave you,” Gaiman once wrote. “You may forget who wrote them or what the story was called. Sometimes you’ll forget precisely what happened, but if a story touches you it will stay with you, haunting the places in your mind that you rarely ever visit.” That quote describes Coraline perfectly, except for the fact that the people who have been spellbinded by it have clearly never forgotten it. Haunting, exciting, and visually mesmerizing, Coraline is an absolute masterpiece.

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