Neil Gaiman has this trick. It isn’t just his trick; plenty of people do it. But Neil makes particularly good use of it.
What does he do? He reassures you.
Only Neil reassures you about things that weren’t worrying you. He takes great pains, in fact, to reassure you, going on about how little there is to worry about and how silly you would have to be to worry. He takes more time to dismiss your nonexistent worry than you’ve ever spent considering whether there might be anything to worry about.
But now you’re considering. Now, perhaps, you’re just a tiny bit worried. Perhaps about something as innocuous as buttons.
We saw Coraline yesterday, opting not to do the 3D experience. I read the book back in 2002 when it came out, and I highly recommend doing the same–after you’ve seen the movie. The movie is good, really, but the book is better.
Coraline (for those who don’t read every word Neil writes the instant they’re available anywhere) is a charming little tale of a young girl who crawls through a tiny door in her boarding house wall to find a world where everything is better. Her parents (other mother and other father) are better. Her friends are better. The other lodgers are better. And the food…the food is much, much better.
Of course, everyone in this other world wants her to stay, and of course, there are prices to be paid: one to stay and one to leave.
Coraline is the book that parents complain about to Neil. It’s not a kids’ book, they say. It’s too creepy. Children can’t handle that much creepy. They can’t handle being scared.
Kids, for the record, love Coraline.
There certainly weren’t any creeped out kids in the theater yesterday, despite the youth of most of the moviegoers, but there weren’t as many creeped out adults as I expected either. I wasn’t as creeped out as I expected to be. I wasn’t as creeped out as I wanted to be.
I blame the animation. While it is great animation, I wish the film had been live action. So much of the creepiness of Coraline’s story is in subtle wrongnesses, in the surreal rather than the unreal. That gets much harder to convey when Coraline’s normal world is less than real.
That’s the only thing really wrong with the movie, though. There are some changes from the book, but it’s remarkably true to the heart of the story. The voice acting is quite good. French and Saunders are as much of a hoot as you’d expect. John Hodgman is wonderful and unrecognizable as Coraline’s father and other father. The art and the animation are wonderful.
So go see the movie. If you have kids, take them along. The younglings will be just fine.
Then get them to read the book to you and explain how, really, there’s nothing in there for any parent to worry about. Nothing at all.