The Book: Coraline, Neil Gaiman, HarperCollins, 2002, 162 pp
The Movie: "Coraline," Henry Selick, screenplay and director, February 2009
In a big departure from my ironclad policy to read the book before I see the movie, I saw the movie first this time. It is fantastic: the animation, the characters, the voices (Dakota Fanning does Coraline), the color, the sound, are all dazzling.
I immediately read the book which is different from the movie in so many ways. Coraline finds a portal, a locked door with a brick wall behind it. It leads from her apartment into another one which is a fantasy world. In the other apartment are her "other mother and other father." At first they appear to be a dream come true. They are interested in her instead of being too busy and the food is delicious (being what we call in our house "kid food.") Coraline's room is full of interesting toys and cool clothes.
Very quickly though, life with her other mother and father becomes sinister. They want to steal her away and keep her for themselves. Worse, they seem to have captured her real parents as well as three other children and are holding these people as prisoners. Coraline summons all her bravery and resourcefulness to save her parents and free the kids. It is scary and creepy and fun.
The movie has additional characters and scenes. It also makes her real parents worse than they are in the book. But since Gaiman liked the screenplay, according to an interview with writer and director Henry Selick, I am satisfied with this example of making a good book into a story that works so well as a movie.
The most stunning change is that the book emphasizes Coraline's quest to save her parents from a shocking and evil fate. The movie, exciting as it is, comes across as a morality tale about what could happen if you wished you had different parents.
I recommend both. The book is for readers of all ages ten years old and up. The movie would work for even younger kids unless they are easily frightened or have a thing about spiders.
(Coraline, the book, is available on the fantasy shelf at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)