AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Director: Henry Selick (Dir)
Release Date:   6 Feb 2009
Duration (in mins):  100 or 105
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Cast: Dakota Fanning  (Coraline Jones)
  Teri Hatcher  (Mel Jones/Other Mother)
  Jennifer Saunders  (Miss Spink)

Summary: Feisty, eleven-year-old Coraline Jones and her parents, Mel and Charlie, move from Michigan to the Pink Palace Apartments, a subdivided, Victorian house surrounded by a large garden in a mountainous area of Oregon. Coraline’s parents are professional writers working under a tight deadline to produce a catalog for a seed company. Too busy to unpack or make the new home comfortable, they have no time for Coraline’s demands for attention and urge her to explore the area. Clad in a yellow raincoat, Coraline romps in the property’s wintery, brick-lined garden and, in the hills above the house, tries to dowse for a well that is on the property. Alone, Coraline is startled, first, by the noise made by a feral cat that follows her, then by a boy her age, Wyborn “Wybie” Lovat, who rides up on a loud motorbike wearing a strange helmet. Untroubled by Coraline’s disdainful manner toward him, Wybie, whose grandmother owns the Pink Palace but lives elsewhere, shows her the location of the deep well. Later, at home, Coraline tells her mother that she almost fell into the well, but both parents, who are typing furiously at their respective computers in different rooms, send her away. Soon after, Coraline receives a package from Wybie containing an old doll he found in a trunk, which, in features and clothing, bears a striking resemblance to her. Carrying the doll she calls “Mini Me,” Coraline explores the house and, in the living room, unpacks her mother’s snowglobes, which she displays on the mantel. Along the base of a wall, she discovers a small door covered by wallpaper that, when opened, is revealed to be bricked up. That evening, after a utilitarian supper thrown together by her father, Coraline goes to bed in her still plainly furnished room. During the night she is awakened by mice that scurry to the little door, which now opens into a tunnel. Coraline crawls through the tunnel, only to find herself back in the living room. However, mouth-watering smells entice her into the kitchen, where she finds her someone who looks exactly like her mother, except that she is stylishly attired and has buttons for eyes. The woman explains that she is Coraline’s Other Mother, and she is uncharacteristically preparing a home-cooked dinner. Coraline enjoys the delicious, multi-course meal in this seemingly perfect place with Other Mother and a charming, button-eyed Other Father, who lavishes special attention toward her. Although the “Other” parents offer to play games, Coraline says she must return to her real home. Reluctant to see her leave, they show her a bedroom similar to her own, but more colorful and interesting. The next morning, Coraline awakens in her real room, almost as if nothing unusual had happened, and finds that the small doorway is again bricked up. When Coraline chatters about her experience over breakfast, the distracted Mel presumes it was a dream, and suggests that Coraline visit the neighbors to fill up her time. Outside, Coraline finds several foul-smelling parcels of mail addressed to Mr. Bobinsky, a paunchy, older Russian who lives in the attic of the house and who performs acrobatics on the roof and porch railings. He explains that the packages contain cheese for his “flying” mice that are being trained as a circus troupe, and adds that they are warning Coraline not to return through the little door. Coraline then visits her downstairs neighbors, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, aging British theatrical performers who share their apartment with several Scottish terriers. After serving tea, Miss Forcible reads Coraline’s tea leaves and, seeing what looks like a clawed hand, warns that she is in terrible danger, despite Miss Spink’s argument that the leaves are in the shape of a giraffe. Later, outside in the fog is Wybie, who tells Coraline that his grandmother considers the house “dangerous” and somehow blames it for the disappearance of her twin sister when they were children. That night, finding the tunnel open again, Coraline re-visits the other world. Other Mother sends her to the garden where Other Father is working. There, Coraline is dazzled by the brilliantly colored flowers lighting up the night and is taken on a ride up into the sky by Other Father, who flies on a large preying mantis that also serves as a tractor. During their meal, Other Wybie, who is mute and has button eyes, arrives and afterward accompanies her upstairs to an elaborate circus performance by Bobinsky’s mice. The next morning, Coraline awakens again in her real house and goes into town with her parents. While Charlie presents the completed catalog to the garden company that hired them, Mel and Coraline go shopping. Mel promises the skeptical Coraline that things will be different once the catalog has been accepted. When Mel leaves her at the house whilie she buys groceries, Coraline finds that, despite the daytime hour, the tunnel is open in the little door and enters it, as the cat observes her from a window. In the “other” house, Caroline finds a note from Other Mother, informing her of an invitation from the actresses. As Coraline proceeds to their apartment, the cat, who can talk in the “other” world, warns her that the place is not as good as it seems. When Coraline notices that, unlike the other inhabitants of this world, the cat has normal eyes, he explains that he is not an Other Cat, but a frequent traveler between the two worlds. Inside the actresses’ apartment is a huge theatre, in which Scottish terriers serve as ushers, audience members and stage crew. Seated next to Other Wybie, Coraline watches the actresses, who perform, scantily clad, in an elaborately staged musical performance. After performing on the stage, they unzip and remove their aging bodies, revealing slim, young performers who quote Shakespeare as they swing on trapezes above the audience. When they reach for Coraline, she flies through the air with them and ends up on the stage for the finale. Afterward, Coraline’s Other Parents are waiting to ask if she would like to remain with them, but explain that to do so, she must replace her eyes with buttons. Horrified, Coraline refuses, but Other Mother is politely insistent. Coraline takes refuge in her room, where animated toys beckon to her to stay. She packs them away and forces herself to sleep, but later awakens in the same “other” room. She slips downstairs to Other Father’s study and is told by him that he must do Other Mother’s bidding. In an attempt to escape, Coraline goes outside, but the gardens soon give way to white emptiness. The cat joins her and explains that Other Mother only built what would impress Coraline. They continue walking away, but when end up back at the house, the cat explains that they have walked completely around the world. A circus mouse attempts to sound an alarm, but the cat kills it and it turns into a dead rat. Inside the house, Coraline tries to get to the tunnel, but the door is blocked. Other Mother is adamant that Coraline should remain with her. When Coraline refuses, Other Mother, angered, transforms into a gaunt, evil-looking woman and pushes her through a full length mirror into a dark closet room. Imprisoned there, Coraline discovers the souls of three dead children, who, with soft, plaintive voices, tell her that Other Mother spied on them through the doll’s eyes. Seeing their unhappiness, they tell Coraline, Other Mother lured them to her world with treats and treasures, then sewed buttons on their eyes and ate their lives. When Coraline insists that she will escape, the children ask her to find their eyes so that their souls will be freed. Other Wybie rescues Coraline and takes her to the tunnel, through which she is able to return to her real world. There, she locks the little door, but soon realizes that her parents have vanished. Wybie arrives, asking her to return the doll, which, he recently learned, belonged to his grandmother’s missing sister. Realizing the significance of the doll, Coraline explains that she has met the sister and explains how Other Mother used the doll to lure the girl to the other world. Wybie flees, having decided that Coraline is “crazy.” Coraline then visits the actresses. When she tells them about her missing parents, they give her a triangular stone with a hole in it that Miss Forcible creates out of candy, but they disagree about whether it is used for “lost” or for “bad” things. Coraline goes to bed, longing for her parents, but is awakened during the night by the cat. He leads her to the full-length mirror, through which she can see that her parents have been imprisoned by Other Mother. The cat then shows her that the doll has been transformed into a two-sided replica of both Mel and Charlie. Coraline burns the doll in the fireplace and determines that she will save her parents, as well as the souls of the ghost children. She packs garden pruners, the candy stone, and other items into a satchel and enters the tunnel. As she and the cat crawl through, the cat gains his voice and warns that she is walking into a trap. He tells her that Other Mother likes games and might respond to a challenge. In the other living room, Other Mother, who has retained her gaunt appearance, waits for her and, after Coraline enters, locks the little door and swallows the key. Coraline negotiates that if she can find her real parents and the eyes of the ghost children, everyone must be set free, and if she cannot find them, she will have buttons sewn on her eyes and stay forever. Other Mother agrees and provides one clue, that all are hidden in plain sight. Coraline begins searching the garden and becomes embattled with the now hostile plants, which try to drag her away, until she cuts them with her pruners. When hummingbirds, now transformed into hornets, attempt to steal her candy stone, Coraline realizes that by looking through the hole, she can see a light that indicates the location of ghost eyes. Apologetically, Other Father, who is now shaped like a pumpkin and, against his will, is under the control of Other Mother, attempts to stop her, but after some struggle, releases to her the gear shift knob on the tractor, which contains the eyes of one ghost child. As Other Father sinks into the earth, the garden turns grey and crumbles into nothingness. Coraline proceeds to the actresses’ apartment, where the women, transformed into a large piece of wrapped candy, clutch a ball containing the eyes of a second ghost. The dogs, transformed into bats, attack Coraline when she takes the ball with the eyes, but she moves aside quickly and they instead inadvertently attack the women. The whole apartment crumbles into greyness. The third ghost child’s eyes are in the possession of Bobinsky, whose body is filled with his mice, which have transformed into rats. A battle ensues between Coraline and the rats, and one rat escapes with the ball containing the third ghost's eyes. When she is knocked to the balcony, which falls to the ground, Coraline fears that she has been defeated, until the cat presents her with the dead rat and the ball containing the eyes. A huge button in the sky eclipses the moon and the area crumbles, prompting Coraline and the cat to run into the house. Inside, the wallpaper is peeling. Other Mother, now a skeletal spider-like creature, waits in the living room, claiming victory because Coraline has not found her parents. Although the cat alerts Caroline that her parents are imprisoned in the snowglobe on the mantel, she knows non one can leave this world unless the little door is unlocked. To trick Other Mother into opening it, Coraline claims her parents are hidden behind the door. As Other Mother turns to unlock it and prove her wrong, Coraline grabs the snowglobe and throws the cat at Other Mother. As they fight, the cat rips out Other Mother’s button eyes then escapes into the tunnel. The room crumbles and is revealed to be a huge spider web. As Other Mother blindly stumbles in pursuit of Coraline, the girl scrambles over the web toward the tunnel. Inside it, she pulls the door shut, but Other Mother pulls it back. Ghostly hands of the dead children reach forward to help Coraline secure it, but Other Mother’s metallic claw-hand breaks off as the door shuts and, like a spider, chases Coraline through the tunnel. When Coraline arrives in the living room of her own home, she locks the door, shutting out the hand, and puts the key on a string around her neck. She confirms that she has three balls containing the ghost children’s eyes, but the snowglobe is missing and, on the mantel, the original snowglobe is broken. Just then, Mel and Charlie walk in, pleased by their employer’s approval of their catalog but oblivious of the snow on their hair and clothes. That night, Coraline apologizes to the cat for throwing him at Other Mother. In Coraline’s dreams, the ghost children appear to her as angels. They warn her that danger remains, because the severed hand is seeking the key to the little door, because it will allow Other Mother access to the real world. Coraline and the cat proceed to the well, but before she can throw the key in, the clawed hand, which squeezed under the door and followed them, grabs Coraline by the string around her neck and pulls her toward the house. Unexpectedly, Wybie rides toward them on his motorbike and joins Coraline and the cat in the fight against the claw, which they eventually manage to break with a rock. Coraline then throws the key and the broken claw into the deep well. Afterward, Wybie apologizes for disbelieving her story and says he realized she was right when he found a photograph of his grandmother’s sister with the doll, which in those days resembled, not Caroline, but the sister. The next day, in celebration of the Joneses’ successful catalog, the Pink Palace residents have a party in the garden, where they plant tulips and beets, and Wybie introduces his grandmother. 

Distribution Company: Universal Pictures
Production Company: Focus Features
Laika, Inc.
Pandemonium LLC
Director: Henry Selick (Dir)
  Melissa St. Onge (1st asst dir)
  Daniel Pascall (2d asst dir)
  Matthew Fried (2d asst dir)
  Jocelyn Stott (3d asst dir)
  Jodi Rosenlof (3d asst dir)
  Ann Shimabukuro (Addl 3d asst dir)
Producer: Bill Mechanic (Prod)
  Claire Jennings (Prod)
  Henry Selick (Prod)
  Mary Sandell (Prod)
  Michael Zoumas (Exec prod)
  Harry Linden (Line prod)
Writer: Henry Selick (Wrt for the screen by)

Subject Major: Cats
  Family relationships
  Imaginary lands
  Mothers and daughters
Subject Minor: Actors and actresses
  Circus performers
  Fathers and daughters
  Missing persons
  Scottish terriers
  Vocational obsession

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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