Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a remarkable book. Naturally, given its appeal to children and adults as well as its handsomely creepy narrative, somebody was going to make a movie out of it—and that movie was Henry Selick’s Coraline (2009). I went to see that film in theaters, and though I initially loved it—it was gorgeous, certainly—after a little while something began to itch at me. Something didn’t seem right. There had been quite a lot of revision in the adaptation, but that’s par for the course in making a movie. The text has to be adapted to fit the screen, sure. But then the real problem occurred to me, and it wasn’t that Selick’s version had made changes. I don’t much care about that on principle.
It was that those revisions had turned the initial text into its opposite, retaining the general shape of the plot but gutting the thematic content.
Neil Gaiman’s novel Coraline is a coming of age story; it’s participating in the tradition of stories in which a youth overcomes a trial to develop their identity. The book is about independence, identity, and development. The significant thing is that it is really very much concerned with having a girl as the protagonist, a girl who is fully rounded and develops on her own as a stable, coherent individual subject.
[Henry Selick’s adaptation is firmly not.]