Coraline Hits the Screen, Stage and Page

Movies Features Neil Gaiman
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While author Neil Gaiman is perhaps best known for The Sandman, the only graphic novel to win a World Fantasy Award (they disallowed the genre after Gaiman won), he's also responsible for the hit novel Anansi Boys, plus screenplays for blockbusters like Beowulf.comic book with shock rocker Alice Cooper. And now his bestselling children’s book Coraline is transforming into a movie and a musical, both of which stay true to the creepy quality of the original.

Created by Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick, along with a massive team of animators at LAIKA studios, Coraline is the largest stop-motion film ever made, and the first to be shot entirely in 3-D. Nearly a decade in the works, the movie follows the adventures of its title character, an 11-year-old girl whose parents have just moved into a flat in an old Victorian house. Coraline decides to explore the unused rooms and, in one of them, discovers a secret door to a world exactly like her own, only better, complete with an “Other Mother” and father far more glamorous than her own parents. The only problem? The Other Mother is a witch who wants to kidnap Coraline and sew buttons onto her eyes.


“The film is incredibly faithful to the book,” says co-lead animator Travis Knight. “It’s as dark as the book but it doesn’t stay in those dark places as long.” Selick originally planned the film as live-action. But Gaiman has said that, if they’d shot the film that way, no one who saw it would be able to sleep afterward. “Seeing a real 11-year old girl in peril, about to have her eyes ripped out, it’s a distressing thought,” Knight says. “But if you do it in stop-motion, which has its own odd quality, it allows you to take additional liberties.”


Meanwhile, across the country in New York, Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt is adapting Coraline into a musical, opening in May at the MCC Theater. “The book reminds me of the Victorian children’s books I read as a child,” Merritt says. “We moved a lot when I was young, and the idea that you can go through a door to a seemingly better fantasy world—that was a lot like my childhood.”


Merritt and Gaiman are longtime collaborators—Gaiman characters have turned up in songs by Merritt’s Gothic Archies side project, and Merritt’s erudite lyrics suit a writer known for name-dropping Greek gods. For the musical, Merritt teamed up with director Leigh Silverman and actor David Greenspan, who plays both the Mother and Other Mother. “We are always looking for the unconventional, surprising casting choice,” Silverman says, “so we have a range of ‘wrong’ performers who play a variety of parts.”


Beyond the movie and the musical, Coraline received another adaptation last summer when artist P. Craig Russell turned it into a graphic novel. In Russell's version, Coraline becomes more like Alice—her hair turned blonde, her attitude a bit spoiled. It’s a stylish adaptation, but Gaiman’s original is a little tougher, a little meaner—which makes her transformation into a freaked-out little girl even scarier.


Watch the trailer for Coraline:

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