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Coraline: The Deviation Between Book and Movie

Updated on September 21, 2014
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Henry Selick

Born November 30, 1952, Henry Selick is most known for his work on Coraline, Nightmare Before Christmas, and James and the Giant Peach. He has been nominated for 21 awards, walking away with 9 wins, including a BAFTA Children's Award for Coraline AFI Award: Movie of the Year.

Common Misconceptions about Coraline (The Movie)

First off, I would like to begin by banishing some misconceptions that many have made after seeing the movie. The biggest of all is that many people have assumed that the movie was directed by Tim Burton.

This is false. It was, in fact, directed by Henry Selick. People often mistake the two styles, as many still believe that the Nightmare Before Christmas was directed by Tim Burton. Burton did help in writing Nightmare Before Christmas, but directing credits once again belong to Selick.

With that out of the way, the next point I bring up because of many rants I have seen about movie and book adaptations in general. People sometimes blame the director for how the screenplay is written. When something in the story varies, they point angry fingers at the director. Likewise, when it goes very well, fingers are pointed at the director.

Directors, of course, do their fair share and what they do is nothing to scoff at, but overlooked often is the screenplay writer. The writer is the one who adapts the beloved book into something that will be pleasing on screen as well as keep as closely as possible to the book, all while keeping the time around one and a half to two hours long.

So, whether it's great or terrible, writers are also there to blame.

Of course, this point is irrelevant in this case, as the writer and director are one in the same. Henry Selick both directed and adapted the screenplay for Coraline from Neil Gaiman's successful children's novel.

This brings me to Selick's writing. Everyone is used to seeing scenes cut from books for sake of time, but I can't ever recall seeing additions to movies--such as adding characters, as done in the movie Coraline, and I can't help but wonder at the reasons for these changes.

Why Were You Born?

One of the changes I immediately noticed when beginning to read Coraline (after having seen the movie) is the absence of Wyborne, the odd neighbor of Coraline's that looks for slugs and always has his head tilted sideways. I had been excited to read Gaiman's version of him, but it turned out that there wasn't one at all.

Wyborne did not exist in Neil Gaiman's book. This brought me to a halt. Why in the world would Selick add a character that didn't exist?

There are several theories. One I came across while looking for an official reason was that they believed no young boy would be interested in watching the movie if it didn't have another boy in it. Of course, this reasoning hardly made any sense, as the book Coraline was successful enough without any sort of male protagonist or love interest.

Another that came to my mind was time. Perhaps, the addition of the character Wyborne was for time's sake. Coraline is a very short book, at only about 33,000 words long. Perhaps, during the drafting period, Selick realized immediately that there would have to be a lot of extra moments placed in, or extra time added between important plot points in order to boost the story into an hour and a half movie. Even with the elongated scenes with Coraline's Other Dad and her downstairs neighbors' Acrobatic performances, there still was simply too much time to tell the story, and so Selick needed something to heighten the time.

This is all conjecture, of course. I have no better supporting facts as to why there were such great variations in the movie as anyone else who both read the book and watched the animated film.

Feminism?

Another review I saw was written by someone very angry about the addition of Wyborne. They said that his introduction took dominance from Coraline and gave it to a male protagonist, and also interrupted any potentially feminist themes that could have been related from the novel.

I disagree heartily. Anyone who watches the movie knows that Wyborne is shy and nervous. In no way is he masculine, nor does he portray any dominant traits. He, in my opinion, serves as a foil for Coraline to show how adventurous and determined she is in comparison to his simple curiosity and hesitance to do anything dangerous.

If anything, this is more feminist than anything. It shows that men can be submissive and women can be dominant. There was nothing particularly romantic about their relationship, either, which I was extremely happy about. This proved in showing that a boy and girl can be friends without having to be in a romantic relationship or have romantic feelings for each other.

Why people may have their reasons for disliking Wyborne's introduction, to say that his addition was anti-feminist has little to no ground to it. In fact, his foil to Coraline and her attitude in not dealing with his odd and sometimes rude comments furthers the theme of feminism, if you were to search for it.

Selick Talks Collaboration with Neil Gaiman

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Interview: Gaiman and Selick

In the above interview, Selick implies that he introduced Wyborne in order to play off of Coraline. As I said before, Wyborne served as an on screen foil to Coraline. It also added to the quirkiness of the movie.

As Selick said, it was very generous for Gaiman to hand over his material to Selick and let him elaborate on it, as not many writers would be willing to be so liberal with their projects.

In this case, Gaiman's trust in Selick paid off, as the movie was a hit, earning several awards and launching the new productions studio, Laika, into popularity.

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Awards Given to Coraline (The Movie)

EDA Female Focus Award
Best Animated Female
Won
BAFTA Children's Award
Best Feature Film
Won
Annie Awards
Character Design in a Feature Production
Won
Academy Awards
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Nominated
The movie Coraline raked in 9 wins and 35 nominations from various award ceremonies.

Themes

Coraline is most certainly a coming of age story in that the protagonist is a young, adventurous girl who is learning to not take what she has for granted. Although she wants a more exciting world than the one she is stuck in, she learns that it is the people around her that make the world interesting, not necessarily the food she can have or the places she can go.

This theme is adapted very well into the movie as, when Coraline goes into the Other world for one of the last times, the colors are inverted and the scenery round her is colorful while the people are dull and gray. Coraline also is able to forge her own path with the help of the mysterious cat, and, in the movie, the advice of Wyborne. Wyborne and the dolls' arrival in the movie make little consequence when it comes to the actual story; Coraline still faces her Other Mother face on, and saves her parents and the dead children's souls.

Conclusion

Finally, all in all, while the movie greatly differed from the book, the chances taken by the writers paid off very well and created a fantastic movie without leaving behind the original themes and quirks of the book. I highly recommend reading the book and watching the movie to fully enjoy both Gaiman and Selick's views on the story, both of which are interesting and captivating.

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