‘Coraline’ has cemented its twitchy-witchy legacy

Jennifer Moglia, Staff Writer

It was released almost 15 years ago, but Henry Selick’s “Coraline” is still racking up accolades. Last week, it jumped into the Top 250 Narrative Feature Films list on Letterboxd, a social media site for movie watchers. It also became the latest movie to be watched by over one million people on the platform, according to a post on Letterboxd’s Instagram

Since its release in 2009, “Coraline” has amassed a cult fanbase that hasn’t calmed down. The Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle is putting props from the film on display in an exhibit titled “Hidden Worlds: The Films of Laika” next month.

The movie was brought back to theaters by Fathom Events twice over the past two years: once to celebrate LAIKA Studios’ 15th anniversary in 2021 and once in 2022 to appease the fans who missed out the year before. I was able to attend one of the showings last August and although I already knew that “Coraline” was my favorite movie, getting to see it on the big screen for the first time helped me appreciate it even more.

The title sequence looks straight out of a traditional horror movie, with high-pitched, eerie music playing as a pair of hands deconstructs and puts together stuffed dolls with the cast’s names rolling across the screen. If you went into this blind, you probably wouldn’t think that it was rated PG or marketed to children.

Children’s horror movies have been on the rise for years. “Coraline” wasn’t the first but it’s certainly one of the best thanks to its director, Henry Selick. Selick is best known for directing the iconic animated film “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Selick worked on “Nightmare” with frequent collaborator and fellow spooky animated movie legend Tim Burton, known for creepy kids’ flicks like “Corpse Bride” and “Frankenweenie.” The two also worked together on “James and the Giant Peach” in 1996.

The fact that you probably recognized most, if not all, of those titles goes to show not only how great the legacies of these filmmakers are, but how impactful children’s horror movies can be. They can instill a love of all things creepy-crawly in young people without exposing them to anything too traumatizing.

In an article from The California Aggie, the University of California at Davis’ student newspaper, author Adhithi Anjali emphasizes the importance of children’s horror movies.

“Whereas we can enjoy the catharsis of horror, as we see the unraveling of order take place rather than remaining struck by the debilitating fear that something is wrong, children seem to lack a new and unique outlet for their daily encounters with the unfamiliar,” Anjali wrote. “What children’s horror can do is offer an outlet that acknowledges that fear.”

“Coraline” isn’t just iconic for being a spooky kids’ movie, though. Since the main character, Coraline Jones, uses a doll and a secret door to visit her “other family,” the film is considered to be one of the big screen’s first multiverse movies.

Yes, before there was “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” there was “Coraline.” It’s not hard to think that the creators of those 2022 films were inspired by this 2009 animated feature.

Another genre this film fits into is book-to-movie adaptations; before Selick worked his stop-motion magic, “Coraline” was a 2002 novella by Neil Gaiman. However, Selick puts on a masterclass in page-to-screen transitions, taking the original story and building on it, but not changing it so drastically that existing fans don’t know what they’re watching.

The book has regular flats, but the movie has the gorgeous Pink Palace Apartments. The book has Coraline visit an alternate universe through a normal door, but the movie has her travel through a stunning blue and purple tunnel. Selick knew what he needed to add (more charming characters like Coraline’s neighbor and friend Wybie Lovat) and what he needed to omit (some of the darker scenes) to fully flesh this story out into its own universe.

“Coraline” is still gaining popularity, with Hot Topic still producing new merchandise based on the movie and “The Other Father Song” trending on TikTok. Selick has also established himself as more than a one-film wonder.

While Tim Burton has implied that his spooky projects “don’t call for” diversity, Selick released “Wendell & Wild” on Netflix in late 2022, an animated horror-comedy film featuring characters of color voiced by Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Angela Bassett and more. Coming up on 15 years since it originally hit theaters, it doesn’t seem like anything will dethrone “Coraline” or Henry Selick from their twitchy-witchy thrones anytime soon.