Coraline and the color palette of childhood

Here’s the short version of this entry: I just love Coraline.

Look out, world!

There haven’t been a lot of movies made in the last ten years that I can watch over and over again and still enjoy, that offer a really escapist feeling, that I’m not distracted by overblown production values or weak performances; Coraline definitely falls into that category.

There’s something beyond reproach about it. That’s not to say it doesn’t have flaws, but when you’re completely engrossed in the liquid grace of the stop motion puppetry, the textures of the world, sharp writing, brilliant characterizations, and beautiful music,  it’s easy to forgive.

There’s also the beauty of the color palette.

We first meet Coraline as she moves into a depressingly drab house on a gray, late-winter day. Dead trees cluster in the background, and a slate sky drops rain. Her parents are just as drained, with good reason: her beige-sweater sporting Mom was recently in a car accident and also wears a neckbrace, and Coraline’s dad resembles the microwavable version of Adrien Brody.

I shouldn't make fun, I'm only a few steps away from this myself.

From a child’s standpoint, Coraline’s parents might be viewed as selfish and neglectful; an adult looks on their attempt to focus on their desperately-needed work and sympathizes. After all, without the catalogue, the family doesn’t eat, since they’re freelance writers.

There were even a few moments when their plight seemed more serious than Coraline’s, and her whining for their attention made her less sympathetic and seem overly-self centered, even for a child.

It’s a depressing world for anyone, and an intelligent child like Coraline is doubly affected.

Which is where the color palette comes in.

I'd watch this cooking show. Hell, it's less terrifying than anything Paula Deen can come up with.

When the Other Mother builds a world to tempt Coraline, she fills it with lush, warm colors and luxuriant textures. The delicious food, the wallpaper, furniture, clothing, and plants of the Other World radiate color, almost drown the viewer in hues. My DVD came with a 3D version of the movie (and glasses! SO COOL!) and I haven’t given that a spin yet, but I hope it’ll be worth all the kerfuffle.

The color palette of childhood is simple, visceral. We want to wear our straw hats with our green pinafore and orange sweater and blue sock, possibly while wearing fairy wings or a tail, if we’re fairly young. Therein lies the appeal in the colorful mishmash of Coraline’s outfits: her pink dress and green tights, or the green and orange gloves she covets which her mother initially rejects have an individualistic charm to them, but also symbolize the time in our lives when we still did things for ourselves rather than others.

Once in high school a girl in my class was horrified with embarassment when a teacher pointed out the girl was wearing brown shoes with a black belt. I took this lesson to heart and swore never to make the same faux pas; now I could give a shit, although I do tend to shy away from bright colors.

From early high school until just two years ago, I wore black, gray, and if I was feeling saucy, purple or red. That was it. I was terrified of wearing The Wrong Thing together, and those four colors made me feel safe. Somehow, I forgot that wearing clothing had everything to do with what I liked, and nothing to do with what other people wanted. Inch by inch I’ve crept away from that security blanket, and now wear bright greens and blues, as well.

Now, I am seriously covetous of Coraline’s Other Outfit, which the Other Mother has made for her.

Cringing Genius Nerd and Horrific Ghost-child sold separately.

Part of the reason I like it is because the stars remind of me of the character Eleanor from Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House.

You don’t need to know the whole story of Hill House if you don’t already; what you need to know is that Eleanor is a shy, vulnerable woman bullied for years by her mother, who decides to take part in an experiment mostly as a way of asserting herself. As she drives to the house, she imagines a destiny for herself that is extricated from her overbearing mother: she’ll have a house some day, with stone lions guarding the front door, and she’ll drink from a cupful of stars. In short, she’ll do what SHE wants, HOW she wants, WHEN she wants.

The cupful of stars thing has always stuck with me, and when I saw the color and design on Coraline’ shirt it reminded me forcibly of Eleanor’s cupful of stars. It reminded me of those childhood things I’d given up or lost, most of all the intangible ones.

A person can live without their old toys, but not without the imagination that brought them to life.

There’s merit to the putting away of childish things as you become an adult, but finding a balance–neither giving up entirely on childish things nor retreating back into them–is what most people struggle with.

So I’d like to raise a cupful of stars to Coraline, for helping me find some of those things I thought I’d lost.

I actually found a woman on Etsy who’ll make the sweater, and while the child part of me wants it now, NOW, the adult part of me insists I wait until I actually can afford to drop 150 dollars on a sweater.

Author: jennnanigans

Orlando-area writerly person.

3 thoughts on “Coraline and the color palette of childhood”

  1. Sweet post with interesting observations. I love the idea of reclaiming the wonders of childhood. It seems odd to me that “grown ups” are expecting to stop playing with the world.

    1. Thank you for the compliment, and thanks for commenting!
      I definitely find myself making harder and harder “grownup” decisions in life, so I guess that’s why it’s so tempting to become jaded and cynical and drained of the colors of joy. That’s when it’s most important to hang on to it!

  2. What a great post! Thank you so much, as well, for liking my “Inside Out” review (from a technical standpoint the film had some for improvement, but in terms of its themes and message, the movie was absolutely stellar) and following my movie review blog! Have a wonderful week! =)

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