Academic journal article Gender Forum

Why Were You Born?: An Analysis of the Anti-Feminist Implications of the Film Adaptation of Coraline

Academic journal article Gender Forum

Why Were You Born?: An Analysis of the Anti-Feminist Implications of the Film Adaptation of Coraline

Article excerpt

1It is certainly no secret that the many fictional worlds of Neil Gaiman are loaded with feminist possibilities. In fact, in the time since Gaiman has risen to critical attention, entire conference panels have been devoted to exploring the feminist implications of his many novels, short stories, picture books, and graphic novels. Moreover, an edited collection of essays on the subject, entitled Feminism in the Worlds of Neil Gaiman: Essays on the Comics, Poetry and Prose (2012), has recently been published. Gaiman has been lauded for years by feminist critics for his ability to create strong, independent female protagonists, especially in his works for children. Coraline (2002), Gaiman's children's novella, offers an excellent illustration of the author's capacity to create strong female heroines who use their own resourcefulness and independence to overcome whatever complicated - and often terrifying - situation they may have found themselves in.

2Gaiman's book tells the story of Coraline Jones, a young girl who discovers a hidden, magical passageway behind a locked door in her house that transports her into a world that is uncannily similar to her own. Through Coraline's often dark and macabre adventures in this 'other' world - adventures which are centered largely on the conflict between Coraline and her Other Mother - she progressively finds her own degree of independence and successfully develops her own unique sense of self. The fact that Coraline accomplishes these rather daunting (and arguably adult) tasks by and large through her own resourcefulness speaks to the appropriateness of a feminist reading of the novel.

3Due to the vast success of Gaiman's novella, a film adaptation of Coraline was commissioned and subsequently released in 2009. Henry Selick - most known for his direction of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) - was responsible for not only directing the film, but for adapting Gaiman's text for its new medium as well. Probably the most striking dissimilarity between Gaiman's book and Selick's film is the inclusion of Wyborn "Wybie" Lovat, a male character not present in Gaiman's original text. According to Selick, Wybie is introduced into the film for no other purpose than to provide Coraline with someone to talk to while she is exploring the 'other' world. However, Wybie's role ultimately extends much further than Selick original intentions for him. In fact, the problem with many of Wybie's actions within the film is, of course, that in Gaiman's book, these are things that Coraline does herself. Because of this repeated intervention by a male character, Wybie's presence in the film often undermines Coraline's strength and independence, thereby effectively robbing Gaiman's original story of much of its feminist thrust.

4Through the character of Wybie, the film suddenly includes an anti-feminist stance that warrants further analysis. For example, why did Selick choose to create a character whose presence was clearly unnecessary in Gaiman's original narrative? What is Wybie's true function? Was Selick's decision of a cultural, commercial, or merely practical nature? Finally, what does the refusal to allow for a strong, independent female character that does not embody the abjection of feminine power onto an evil Other Mother in Selick's film say about our current cultural climate? This analysis seeks to explore these questions while taking into account the broader social implications of Selick's decision to dilute the source text's feminist connotations in his film adaptation.

Coraline: From Book to Film

5To begin, let us examine some key moments in the novel that serve to illuminate the changes those same scenes undergo in their transition to Selick's screen adaptation. In the opening chapter of Gaiman's novel, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (Coraline's downstairs neighbors) make a point of warning her about the abandoned well at the edge of the property. Following her own natural curiosity, Coraline goes offin search of the well, and we are told that she "found it on the third day, in an overgrown meadow beside the tennis court" (5). …

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