As a brief synopsis (spoiler alert! don’t read this if you don’t want to hear plot details), Coraline discovers a secret alternative world behind a bricked-up door in her new house. Everything there mirrors her own life, only with everything she wants. She has an “other” mother and father who seemingly live to give her whatever her heart desires, with the eerie unexplained detail that they have buttons for eyes.
As it turns out (SPOILER ALERT!), the other mother is a monstrous spider-like creature who lures children into this world in order to consume their lives. She offers them unconditional love and all their wishes, if they will agree to stay with her forever. Once they do, she latches onto them like a nasty version of a little kid falling in love with a hampster. She traps them like mistreated pets, grows tired of them, and when they die she keeps their souls, somehow feeding off of the capture, and Coraline learns almost too late that she is the next intended victim and must escape and conquer the other mother.
The movie uses stop-motion animation, sticking pretty close to the book, as book-based movies go. The changes that were made weren’t too traumatic. The movie added a character, emphasized Coraline’s tense relationship with her parents, and stretched out her visits to the other mother, but probably the biggest change was the added dynamic of button-eyed dolls used by the other mother to spy on the children and it really doesn’t mess up the story.
The philosophy is the consuming possessive parent who destroys the child she loves by trying to own him or her. The other mother really has nothing to offer the children, just the indulgence of their own selfishness because that is what she knows. She can create nothing new, but replicates what she thinks they want, and as soon as the children are emptied of their lives, she forgets about them and looks for a new one. It reminds me of Rapunzel and the witch- hiding a child in a tower is no way to keep a relationship, even if the witch thought she had effectively removed all competition. No one owns a child, but for some reason it’s easy to think so.
“How do I know you’ll keep your word?” asked Coraline.
“I swear it,” said the other mother. “I swear it on my own mother’s grave.”
“Does she have a grave?” asked Coraline.
“Oh yes,” said the other mother. “I put her in there myself. And when she tried to crawl out, I put her back.”