Child Neglect in the Film Coraline

Throughout the past fifty years, the Western world has been witness to major advances in the recognition of childrens’ rights. By analyzing the modern “family film,” one can gain insights into the modern family life as it necessarily unites both adult and child audiences, mediating adult perceptions of childhood and a child’s understanding of adults. It is said that family films can challenge the traditional constructs of childhood and adulthood.

In Henry Selick’s stop-motion film, Coraline (2009), Selick is interested in childhood “not as a condition of sentimentalized, passive innocence but rather as an active, seething state of receptivity in which consciousness itself is a site of wondrous, at time unbearable drama” (Myers 247). Coraline is a spooky, cautionary tale that works by playing on very real childhood fears. Coraline’s greatest fear at the start of the novel is that her parents do not love her enough and the “Other Parents” only manifest themselves when Coraline begins to feel that she is no longer the center of her parents’ world. Coraline’s parents are busy individuals who work from home tend to ignore the needs of their own daughter. Coraline is often left alone to entertain and even take care of herself. Wanting more from her home life, Coraline enters a realm that is a result of her subconscious desires.

When Coraline discovered the door, everything that happened after were calculated machinations of the “Other Mother.” The “Other Mother” is a serial predator who sets an elaborate trap for Coraline. In the very first scene of the movie, a pair of creepy metallic hands are transforming an old doll into a new one, or as Myers states, “The film’s incipit, which depicts the Other Mother methodically undressing, dissecting, and disemboweling her child victim…” (Myers 248). The first scene of the movie sums up what will happen during the entire movie: The programming of a young girl by a sadistic handler.

The “Other Mother” leads Coraline to the magic portal, controls Coraline’s movements between worlds, devises the “exploring game” to find the souls—she is in total control of Coraline’s life. “By creating a long-standing kidnapping framework in which to position Coraline’s abduction, Selick…effectivily renders the heroine powerless, pitting her from the outset against a devious serial killer” (Myers 248-9). Coraline’s vulnerability was the direct result of parental shortcoming, and is especially critical of modern mothers who do not have time to tend to their children’s needs due to work commitments.

For more information concerning child neglect in the stop- motion film, Coraline, refer to the article, Whose Fear Is It Anyway: Moral Panics and “Stranger Danger” in Henry Selick’s Coraline, by author, Lindsay Myers.