Coraline is an animated dark fantasy horror film based on Neil Gaiman's 2002 novella. The film tells the story of a young girl named Coraline who discovers the two worlds that exist within her universe: the real world and the alternative world. Though she is at first happy in her alternative world, where many of her wishes come true, she soon realizes that the parallel world has a sinister secret.
Throughout the film, viewers will notice that a lot of objects that Coraline encounters carry symbolism that connect with the complex themes of the movie.
The button-eyed rag doll that Coraline receives is a symbolic object that foreshadows what is about to happen to Coraline in the alternative universe. The button eyes are sewn over the doppelgangers of her parents and neighbors in the parallel universe, signifying that these doppelgangers are labeled as "the Others" along with their original titles and names. Coraline soon discovers that the button-eyed rag dolls are the objects the Other Mother uses to bring people from the real world into the alternate reality, only to be consumed and trapped in the parallel world forever. The buttons sewn over the doppelgangers' eyes indicate that the parallel world is not what it seems to the main character.
Coraline also realizes that she has become one of Other Mother's victims and that her wish to have normal parents who would simply interact with her has now changed her life forever. She meets the ghosts of Other Mother's victims who tell her she is experiencing the same fate as the rest of them. She is trapped behind a mirror, which symbolizes an invisible wall between the real world and the parallel world.
In addition, if viewers can look closely at the title of the movie, they will notice a button in the place of the "O" in Coraline's name; the formatting of the movie's title also foreshadows what is happening in Coraline's parallel universe.
The black cat is another symbol that ties with the horror and spooky themes of the film. Surprisingly, the black cat becomes an ally to Coraline; the cat can talk to Coraline in the alternate reality while it just meows in the real world. The black cat appears in the movie title as well, symbolizing the companionship Coraline craves. Also, the black cat acts just like any cat in the real world: its purrs and meows represent the love and affection Coraline seeks out. Since Coraline is often neglected by her workaholic parents, she spends lots of time with the cat and becomes more emotionally attached as it follows her.
The ghosts that appear in Coraline's dream symbolize the souls and spirits of the dead. The ghosts that Coraline encounters in the parallel world are the souls of the victims of the Beldam, the antagonist. Though they appear scary at first, it is revealed they are harmless and helpless souls.
Finally, there's the key that Coraline holds in her hands. The key represents access between the real world and the parallel universe. When Coraline disposes of the key by dropping it down the well, she makes sure the alternate reality can no longer be entered.
The parallel universe is not only tied with the themes of Halloween, but also the themes of an alternate reality itself. This eerie feeling of loss and transitions remains relevant to viewers year-round. In fairy tales, alternate realities often appear when a person makes a wish for an entirely new life and set of circumstances. For example, when someone makes a wish that changes another person's personality, that wish would also change his or her life, thus opening up a parallel universe.
A parallel universe is a common element in fiction, often appearing in books, movies, or TV episodes. The alternate reality co-exists with one's real world. Parallel universes are key plot devices in many genres such as science fiction, fantasy, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If used correctly, young viewers will get a good sense of a what parallel dimension is and how it can be distinguished from the real world, as shown in Coraline. This movie can even be a teaching device to reflect on your children's hopes and dreams, as well as the world they wished they lived in.