For the last 15 years, LAIKA Studios has amused, entertained, amazed, and, in some cases, downright terrified audiences with their stop-motion animation tales that continually place children at the center, offering a chance for audiences old and young to see the world in a new way. In celebration of their 15 years, LAIKA has partnered with Shout! Factory to release special editions of four of their five releases: Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014), and Kubo and the Two Strings (2016). Each release, dubbed LAIKA Studios Edition, includes a remastered version of the film, bonus materials new and old, as well as a written foreword by a notable author exploring the respective film. Additionally, to add to the fun, both Coraline and ParaNorman are returning to theaters via Fathom Events on August 24th and November 16th, respectively, so that audiences can reenter each story or experience it for the first time in the theater. Rather than releasing them all at once, Shout! Factory is offering Coraline and The Boxtrolls first on August 31st, with ParaNorman and Kubo coming available on September 14th. In this first of four home release reviews, let’s dive into the world of writer/director Henry Selick’s (The Nightmare Before Christmas) take on the Neil Gaiman story Coraline.
Coraline follows the adventures of a disgruntled young girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning) whose family has moved into a new home. Her parents, loving in their own way, are distant to Coraline as they work on a manuscript for a new nature book: Mom’s (voiced by Teri Hatcher) focus on cleanliness backs up against Coraline’s desire to play inside and out, while Dad (voiced by John Hodgman) is too busy fighting his deadline to notice anything around him. Alone aside from some strange neighbors, Coraline seeks out stimulation, finding it in the strangest of places, like a hidden door in their wall that appears to lead to another dimension where Other Mother and Other Father live (replicas of her own parents, just with buttons for eyes). They pay Coraline all kinds of attention, feed her all kinds of delicious foods, and present an opportunity to have the kind of home life she desires. But amid this temptation lurks a deadly menace which may demand far more than Coraline can afford to give.
Of the LAIKA releases, Coraline is not a favorite. It’s not the animation, which is still jaw-droppingly beautiful even 15 years later, but the story that never connected with me. This is, honestly, an oddity because ParaNorman and Kubo are fantastic stories (we’ll get more into those later) and I found myself a bit teary watching Boxtrolls, so I know it’s not because the focus is on a child. I think it’s because of how blatantly the Others are manipulative, how they wear their insidiousness out in the open, and yet Coraline is so delighted to have someone show her attention and affection in the exact way she desires that she ignores the danger until its almost too late. This may be, perhaps, the intent of the story, to showcase how one can become blind to hazards by sheer will merely because it offers a respite from daily frustrations. It could also be, especially now as a parent of two small kids, that I can relate more to the parents who struggle daily to give Coraline what she wants while making sure she has what she needs (the more important of the two), even if it means ignoring her for a period of time. It’s a difficult tightrope parents walk, something I didn’t realize as a child but, as an adult, realize how my memories are recontextualized with this new knowledge. In fairness to the story, Coraline never behaves like a spoiled child, just a frustrated one who is old enough to be allowed the freedom to roam without supervision yet still at an age where spending time with her parents is desirable. In the words of Louisa May Alcott, Coraline is a “Little Woman” at that odd in-between age. Of course, the story takes full advantage of this, forcing Coraline to choose between temptation and reality. For younger audiences, it is a great vessel to begin that conversation, something I can easily recognize in the work, even if it may not be something I immediately reach for.
Though Shout! Factory may not be the type of boutique distributor that most cinephiles think of when it comes to quality home releases, that hasn’t stopped them from putting out some fantastic collector’s editions over the years. Thanks to their work with IFC Films, they’ve even supported newer films getting a physical release, something which seems on the cusp of going by the wayside as streaming services grow in interest and reach. The releases put together for Coraline and The Boxtrolls certainly signals that Shout! is in the corner of collectors as this new edition includes not just all the bonus features of previous editions, but enough new material to entice collectors or avid fans to purchase again. EoM editor Crystal Davidson favors Coraline quite a bit, so the 2-Disc Collector’s Edition from several years ago was already in our collection and I can tell you that from physical presentation to included materials, the LAIKA Studios edition is not just a fresh coat of paint, but something desirable in both visage and exploration.
Regarding the special features, there are six new additions to the film, each one only available in this edition. Totaling over 21 minutes, these features let audiences get an inside look at the process of making the film from the perspective of the creative team (writer/director, animators, artists, etc.), while also getting brief deep dives into each of the main characters of the film. This second portion, seven featurettes under the “Revisiting the Puppets with LAIKA’s Animation Team” heading, enables viewers to learn how the character design functioned in relation to performance and provided information on the characters themselves. For those who enjoy a behind the scenes look, these main featurettes expand on the previous extensive storyboarding and commentary materials, offering new insights and discoveries. There are also three brief two-minute featurettes that allow fans to look through three individual image galleries that extend what is explored regarding production, art, and character design in the other featurettes.
The last of the new materials is a foreword by Peter Debruge, Chief Film Critic for Variety. In it he makes several valid points regarding the time-tested nature of Coraline. He invokes the names of several other films from or near the release year (2009) and he’s right, few hold up quite as well as Coraline does. He states that it’s partially due to the physical nature of the story, that Coraline isn’t drawn using a technique only available at its height at the time of release, but that she’s literally standing right there. Watching Coraline and Boxtrolls back-to-back as I did enables one to see how the technology to create the stop-motion figures or even to record them may have improved, but there’s no major increase in quality between the two films, released six years apart. Coraline, even 15 years later, is beautiful and transportive, looking just as wonderous and terrifying now as it did upon release.
To get a better sense of the total home release package, here’s a quick video walkthrough:
While I’m not one for ranking films in any way (even doing so as a “favorites list” is troubling), it feels fair to say that even a lesser preferred LAIKA film is still a quality film. Unlike other forms of cinema, you can see the immense work that goes into every frame, which, silly as it may sound, is part of why I do so love their films. Each one is the essence of sprezzatura, a term whose meaning roughly translates “to make something difficult look easy.” There’s a lightness to every scene of their films, even the emotionally-scarring moments, which pulls you in deeper to the story. On the off-chance that you don’t get pulled into the story as much as they hope, there’s always something to marvel at in the details, of which all are complex and numerous. As such, it feels safe to recommend Coraline LAIKA Studios Edition if you’re a fan of the film or the studio, but especially if you don’t yet have the film in your collection.
Coraline LAIKA Studios Edition Special Features:
- NEW “Inside LAIKA” – Discovering The Characters Of Coraline Featuring Never-Before-Seen Test Footage (10:46)
- NEW “Inside LAIKA” – Revisiting The Puppets with LAIKA’s Animation Team
- The Beldam (1:16)
- Mr. Bobinsky (1:40)
- The Cat (1:13)
- Coraline Jones (1:15)
- “Other” Father (1:06)
- “Other Mother (1:10)
- Wybie Lovat (1:02)
- NEW Character Art Photo Gallery (2:06)
- NEW Concept Art Gallery (2:06)
- NEW Behind The Scenes Photo Gallery (2:06)
- NEW Foreword by Peter Debruge, Chief Film Critic for Variety (essay inside liner notes)
Previous Bonus Features
- Feature-Length Storyboards (1:34:02)
- Audio Commentary With Director Henry Selick And Composer Bruno Coulais
- The Making Of Coraline
- Original Featurettes
- Deleted Scenes
For more information on the film, head to LAIKA Studios’s official Coraline website.
Available on Blu-ray/DVD Combo from Shout! Studios August 31st, 2021.