Henry Selick- Tim Burton= Coraline

When analyzing Tim Burton’s movies/filmography, the idea of the sublime is very present and precise in the relationship of his work. Ranging from The Corpse Bride to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street the use of the gothic architecture and atmosphere show Tim Burton’s skill as nothing short of talented as far as gothic stop-motion and character development is concerned. However, another director called Henry Selick made a film very similar to Burton’s film style. Although Coraline is a very Burton-esque film it wasn’t created by Tim Burton, rather by Henry Selick, who worked with Tim Burton for a very long time.

Right off the bat a haunting lullaby plays against a black, star-pricked sky when something appears in the distance. A button-eyed doll floats towards the screen and through an open window of a small sewing room where it lands in a pair of waiting hands, hands that are made of sewing needles. The doll – which resembles a young black girl in old fashioned clothes, hair fixed with ribbons and braids – is placed on a sewing table. An elaborate sewing kit is opened, and, in flickering green light, the needle-hands go to work. The doll’s old clothes are cut away; button eyes torn off; hair pulled out. The doll’s stuffing is removed and then the empty cloth body is pulled inside out, switching from a nut brown to a pale pink. Sawdust is poured in the new doll’s mouth; facial features added; blue yarn hair punched in; and then a fresh pair of shiny black button eyes is selected from a button drawer. The transformed doll, is then put in a little yellow raincoat, its new button eyes affixed, and released out the window and back into the star-pricked sky. This opening scene is a surreal moment for later in the movie when the viewers meet the human version of the newly created doll, Coraline. Gothic tales cross the boundaries of reality and the supernatural, which Coraline constantly does, as the title character constantly switches between conventional reality and the divine supernatural.

Coraline’s neighbor Wybie, who met her for the first time the evening before, gives her an odd-looking doll that he found in his grandmother’s attic which looks exactly like Coraline. This doll is what the viewers remember from the opening scene. It is nothing short of a spy that the Beldam sent and is there to spy on Coraline to see what she is missing in her life. It ‘sees’ when Coraline is neglected by her parents. It ‘sees’ when Coraline is trying to find something to do around the house, and ‘hears’ when Coraline says that she would rather play in the pouring rain than sit and do nothing. The Beldam lures the children to her world by giving them all the wonderful things that she sees that they feel are missing from their own households.

When filming Selick, drawing from Burton, uses an abundant amount of high angles to make his characters appear smaller and helpless. In Coraline, the title character Coraline is walking alone in search of a water well, here Selick focuses on her in a high angle. The high angle makes her appear even more separated from the viewer and the rest of the world. The setting in this scene is also important when highlighting the importance of the high angle. In this scene Coraline is searching for a well with a ‘dowsing rod’ which is used by water witches to find water. She is surrounded by dismal/dead trees on a cloudy day with mud sticking to her feet as she continues her search for a mysterious and unseen well. Selick uses these high shots to show depression, apprehension, and misinterpretations in his characters. Another high angled shot is when Coraline is walking through the “other world” with the cat from the real world. In this scene, Coraline walks away from her other home trying to leave it, only to come back to it because the Beldam didn’t create the entire world for Coraline only what the Beldam felt like Coraline needed.

Coraline walking through the other world.

Another cinematic technique that emphasizes the sublime is called zoom. Selick utilizes this to emphasize emotions and expressions in the midst of the movies. A scene where he does this is when Coraline wakes up after her first visit in her other “home.” The camera zooms out as her other parents fade from the scene and her once bright room is now a dismal grey. This shows Coraline as little, alone, and confused as to how she suddenly woke up in her real bed, which also gives the viewer an unsettled vibe and makes them question if it was real or not. Another time when Selick decides to zoom out on a scene is when Coraline sees the other garden which is constructed to resemble her face. As the camera zooms out on the scene the other father says flippantly, “Mother said you’d like it. For she knows you like the back of her hand.” This message in itself is not creepy but when the viewer takes into account that these people are a form of ‘other’, are not of reality, and in the way that the statement was said; the statement becomes much more creepy and unsettling.

Coraline and the Beldam

When the time comes for Coraline’s horrific showdown with her Other Mother, who metamorphoses into a frightening amalgam of Cruella de Vil and a mechanical Shelob, brings an existential terror of bereavement and maturity. After escaping the Beldam, and throwing the key to the mysterious door down the never-ending well, Coraline and her family throw a garden party. This is where Wybie introduces his grandmother, who lost her sister to the Beldam, to Coraline. The camera pulls up from the garden, flies over the house and settles down on the “Pink Palace Apartments” sign out front. On top of the sign sits the black cat, who looks right into the camera, blinks, then walks behind a thin post that holds the sign and disappears. While Selick does draw from Tim Burton, he does an amazing job of capturing the Gothic, sublime, and the fear of children in his film adaptation of Coraline. This movie confronted the principle characters with the gross violence of physical and psychological conclusion, which shattered the assumed norms of everyday life with shocking consequences (Tinkham).