Coraline: A Visual Companion book review

Coraline's weird world is laid out in a fascinating new book..

Title: Coraline: A Visual Companion Writer: Stephen JonesPublisher: Titan Books (£19.99, Hardback) When you have a spellbinding book, the magic spills off the page and fires the imagination of children and adults alike. But how can that same sense of enchantment be transferred to screen? Such is the task facing Neil Gaiman’s enthralling modern fairy tale, Coraline, that echoes the timeless joy of Alice In Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy.

This is a tale about a young girl who’s intrigued by a mysterious locked door in her new house and when she finally opens it, she discovers a strange duplicate world with her button-eyed Other Mother and her Other Father, who plan to trap her there forever. His previous book, Stardust, was turned into a modestly successful live action movie, and arguably that’s the hardest task in bringing such ‘otherworld’ tales to life.

The dark godfather of children’s fantasy, Roald Dahl, has received varied treatment as his stories make that journey from the page to the screen. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches created larger-than-life worlds with real actors who brought the eccentric characters to life, but James and the Giant Peach found more dazzling life as an animated feature. And this has been the approach to Coraline under the supervision of the same director, Henry Selick, who not only did James but also Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Whilst the film is set for release in May this year, this Visual Companion offers an exhaustive and enchanting look at how the film was made with its huge cast of highly talented people concealed behind the technical wizardry .

With a brief introduction to Gaiman himself, writer Stephen Jones reveals the genesis of the novel before guiding us through its transference to the big screen with accounts from not only Selick but also his whole production crew, model makers and animation team. These are often the unsung heroes and hearing them all explain the painfully slow, methodical way the film was put together. Every figure and object is hand-painted, as well as the costumes designed and every hair on their heads (along with a few stunt wigs!). To think it takes 26 movements of a stop-motion figure, all adjusted by hand, just to get one second of action on film. The skills of the puppeteers deserve a goblin’s crock of gold for their patience alone.

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Not only does Jones give a tantalisingly brief potted history of stop-motion animation in cinemas, taking in Willis O’Brien, George Pal and Ray Harryhausen, but he also explains the revolutionary new 3-D technique, known as Real D, which has been previously been employed on the likes of Chicken Little, Beowulf and the reissue of The Nightmare Before Christmas. There are interviews with Gaiman and his daughter Maddy, for whom he wrote the original story, as well as comments from the actors who voice the characters, including Dakota Fanning as Coraline, Teri Hatcher as Mother/ Other Mother and the playful fun of both French and Saunders. Everyone seems full of enthusiasm and excitement, everything in fact is brilliant.

The book is generously illustrated with behind-the-scenes photographs and original illustrations from set designs and character studies, along with a feast of stills from the finished film, which all animate the text. It proves that film-making is the product of dedicated teamwork and consummate craftsmanship. Jones captures the delights of both the film and the original novel, adorning his behind-the-scenes dialogues with nuggets of background information and biographical details. He make it a lucid, enjoyable read. Definitely a ‘Companion’ to take by the hand and walk with through the imagination of Movieland.


Coraline: A Visual Companion will be released on the 27th of February


3 out of 5