What if the tempter in the Garden of Eden looked not like a serpent, but like your mom?
That’s essentially the dilemma facing the young title heroine of “Coraline,” a wonderfully inventive, stop-motion animated film based on a novella by Neil Gaiman. At heart this is a tale of temptation and deception, and while it may not be Biblically based, it is the sort of morally grounded fairy tale that Christians can appreciate.
In the intricately rendered picture (it took 10 people almost four months to construct only one of the movie’s puppets), Coraline Jones has moved into an old apartment house with her workaholic parents. Feeling bored and ignored, she finds a secret door that leads to a world that is a distorted mirror image of her own. There she finds her Other Mother and Other Father - attentive parents who only want to shower her with toys and feed her scrumptious treats.
An early clue that this world may not be as perfect as it seems is the fact that Coraline’s Other Mother and Other Father have buttons for eyes. Gradually, the ominous signs grow even creepier, until the elaborate garden Coraline’s Other Father has planted for her literally tries to gobble her up.
It’s all terribly frightful, both on a visceral level - especially if you see it in a 3-D theater - and on a psychological one. Gaiman and director Henry Selick have tapped into something deeply unsettling with their tale. In its depiction of conniving and deceptive parental figures, “Coraline” insidiously inverts the soothing adage: “There’s no place like home.”
Christian parents tend to be warier of what their children watch than most, so I want to be clear that “Coraline” isn’t for the faint of heart. (Or the prudish. In the Other World, Coraline’s neighbor wears an acrobat costume that would raise eyebrows in a strip club). Yet the adventurous and open-minded will be rewarded by the movie’s dazzling creativity and simple wisdom.
“Coraline” espouses, for example, a characteristic that is incredibly difficult for kids to learn: contentment. Theirs is a young new world bursting with possibilities, and they want it all now. Having to wait, being told no – these are great injustices regularly committed by parents.
“Coraline” tempts kids with the possibility of getting everything they want exactly when they want it – and then the movie imagines the sort of terror that could result from such indulgence. Sure, in the real world, spoiled kids don’t have buttons for eyes, but young viewers will still get the message.
Returning to the garden – not Coraline’s, but the one in Genesis – I wonder if the movie could increase our understanding of the sort of temptation faced by Adam and Eve? Fruit from a snake sounds easy enough to turn down. But cupcakes on demand from a sweet, doting mother?