While both the LAIKA film version of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and its original novel format differ widely, both are incredible works of fiction to be enjoyed by most ages (they are probably too creepy for young children). Those who haven’t read the book might not know just how far they differ. Many details were added to the movie and some were cut, resulting in two separate yet equally enjoyable entities that can both be appreciated for their differences.
From Coraline’s companion to her own personality, the Other Mother’s reception to how “brave, tricky and wise” both versions of Coraline are in their own ways, there are lots of variations to celebrate between the book and the movie–as well as several to despise.
10 Better: Coraline Knows Something’s Up In The Book
Book-Coraline is much more astute than movie-Coraline, who desperately wants something new and exciting to happen in her life. Movie-Coraline is quick to embrace the new world that the Other Mother has created for her, finding it much more vibrant and fun than her own dull life, but book-Coraline is suspicious right away. She knows something is wrong and quickly uses her wits to evaluate the situation and work her way out of it.
Movie-Coraline has been hailed as a more realistic tween, which is probably true. But she also illustrates the growth of a coming-of-age story in her transformation from bratty whiner to the hero of her own story, which makes it so good in the first place.
9 Worse: Their Personalities Are Completely Different
In the film version of Coraline, the titular character is sassy and sarcastic, pretty much rolling her tween eyes over every adult comment she hears at the beginning of the film. It’s not until she loses her parents and has to save them that she fully appreciates the life she found so dull only days before.
Book-Coraline, on the other hand, is much more kind, being polite to all of her odd neighbors. Some say this makes her too perfect, but it really does portray the characteristics of an only child, especially a daughter, who has grown up around adults and is expected to be more mature as a result.
8 Better: The Dangers Are Different
Most of the scenes that feature dangers in Coraline differ widely from book to screen. The basement scene in which Coraline has to blind the Other Father, who looks like a big grub, and quietly escape so he can’t hear her, which is frightening, is replaced by the less scary (but still creepy) garden scene with the Other Father on the back of a praying mantis where he apologizes and says he doesn’t want to hurt her.
This doesn’t make much sense since he’s supposed to be the creation of the Beldam, but it does provide striking visual effects. One thing that many readers agree on is that Gaiman’s book leaves enough room to let us really scare ourselves, which can often be more disturbing.
7 Worse: Her Parents Are More Hands-Off In The Film
To be fair, Coraline’s parents are not negligent in either version of her story. They are just busy people who have to work, move into a new home and do all of the things adults have to do to create a home and maintain a family. Much of Coraline’s alone time is healthy for her; it allows her to utilize her imagination and creativity. Children don’t have enough daydreaming time as it is, as George Carlin once said.
But it can be said that her parents in the film are more hands-off, ignoring her much more and appearing indifferent to her requests for fun with them. Her parents in the books seem to care a bit more, although they, too, are busy.
6 Better: There’s No Wybie In The Book
One of the most annoying things for many readers was the addition of Wybie, a character that’s not found in the book at all. His presence seemed as if it were forced in to appeal to more male viewers, or to take away a bit of Coraline’s “tricky, brave and wise” characteristics, giving him more credit in directing her in how to free herself when book-Coraline has to rely on herself.
Then again, there are also fans who appreciated the addition of another character, especially since it gave the two some humorous moments to share in the movie. It also gave her a friend in an otherwise lonely place for a kid to grow up in. Wybie’s grandmother is also absent from the book.
5 Worse: Little Character Differences
There are lots of little character differences that aren’t much on their own but, when added up, point to entirely different pieces of media. Mr. B. is named Bobo and not Bobinski in the book, for example, and he raises rats instead of mice. Coraline is naturally English in the book, like Gaiman himself, and the door she uses to enter the other world is quite small in the book–more like an Alice in Wonderland kind of door than the regular door we see in the film.
The dogs in the theater talk in the book, and the cat’s eyes are green instead of blue. Coraline’s hair is black in the book, and there are no snow globe or ghost children eyes to find. Instead, the ghosts ask her to help find their souls. Coraline also talks to herself a lot (which is why Wybie was added–so she’d have someone to talk to instead) and the Other Mother is tall with long fingers right away in the book.
4 Worse: Coraline HATES It When You Mispronounce Her Name
While movie-Coraline only mildly corrects people when they mispronounce her name as “Caroline,” book-Coraline gets much more incensed over the mispronunciations. It makes sense since a kid’s name is always the most important word to that child and getting it wrong feels like breaking the law.
It’s such a bone of contention for Coraline that it’s presented as something as bad as being bored in the books: “Nothing’s changed. You’ll go home. You’ll be bored. You’ll be ignored. No one will listen to you, really listen to you. You’re too clever and too quiet for them to understand. They don’t even get your name right.”
3 Worse: The Dialogue
As with any adaptation, the dialogue varies a lot once it’s been translated to the film. Part of this is just due to Coraline’s more refined manners and inner dialogue with herself in the book, but she’s not the only person whose dialogue is different. Much of what the Other Mother says is different, as are many of the quotes from other characters. Coraline’s neighbors, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, are also the people who advise her to not play near the old dangerous well, which of course intrigues her enough to go and search for it.
One of the biggest dialogue differences, though, is in the nameless cat, who is so much more snarky and funny in the book. Even though Keith David voices the cat wonderfully in the movie, he doesn’t get to say lines about humans not knowing who they are or not wanting what you want because it would be no fun to get whatever you wanted all of the time.
2 Better: The Other Mother Is Scarier In The Book
LAIKA’s version of the Other Mother, who is voiced by Teri Hatcher, is definitely a scary monster who will give you nightmares, but Neil Gaiman is famous for being scary by NOT telling us certain details or describing them in ways that just make us shiver. For example, when Coraline asks the Beldam to keep her word, the Other Mother says she swears on her mother’s grave.
Coraline shrewdly asks if she even has a grave, to which the Other Mother replies, “Oh yes. I put her in there myself. And when I found her trying to crawl out, I put her back.”
1 Better: The Endings Are Different
The ending of the Coraline book is thought to be much more appealing by many fans. In it, Coraline already knows that the Beldam’s hand crossed over into her world, so she sets a trap to catch it by setting up a tea party of sorts on top of the well. It’s another example of her being “brave, tricky and wise,” and she even does it days after her big escape, proving her strength even further. Who could patiently wait like that without losing their mind in terror?
In the film version, it’s more of a reactionary situation where Wybie helps Coraline get rid of the hand in the well. It’s certainly more exciting than having a few normal days before the big trap, but Gaiman’s is more satisfying.
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