Coraline (2009; dir. Henry Selick) is about a young girl whose parents move to an isolated house in the country. They are too busy with their work to bother with her (they seem to be writers), so she has much time to herself. This animated film is for adults who remember what it was like to be a child. It is not really a film for young children because it is in many ways terrifying. It exploits some of the worst nightmare fantasies a child might have: the disappearance of parents, getting lost in a world full of vague and frightening menaces, discovering that nothing is what it seems. What might prove most disturbing to a child are the scenes in which Coraline stumbles into a world parallel to her own. There she discovers her parents—but they are parents who have time for her, who are nice to her, who do all the things for her that her real parents can’t or won’t do. Just as she begins to like this other world, she begins to discover things about it she doesn’t like; her alternative parents begin to pressure her to do things she doesn’t want to do (such as have buttons sewn on her eyes). Then she discovers that returning to her real world isn’t easy. Complications ensue.
Based on Neil Gaiman’s novel, this film is visually ingenious, captivating, and always interesting. It weaves a tale out of the psychological fantasies and fears of childhood without entirely explaining them away. It makes fun of self-absorbed adults in such a way that those adults can appreciate the humor. Coraline is a post-Freudian, postmodern version of Alice in Wonderland.