Coraline's Soundtrack Could Have Been An Indie Rock Masterpiece

Much like the other world discovered in "Coraline," there is an alternate dimension in which in the indie rock band They Might Be Giants provided much more than a single track to the beloved 2009 stop-motion animated movie. Written and directed by Henry Selick ("The Nightmare Before Christmas"), the Laika film is based on the 2002 novella of the same name by Neil Gaiman. "Coraline" follows its titular heroine after she discovers a portal to a parallel universe whose button-eyed inhabitants are far more sinister than they initially appear. This bold adaptation was forced to flesh out Gaiman's book in order to have enough material for a feature length film, but it definitely kept the spirit of the work faithfully intact.

"Coraline" is soundtracked by a dark and gorgeous score from French composer Bruno Coulais. However, that wasn't always the plan. Fans of indie rock titans They Might Be Giants likely would have noticed John Linnell's instantly recognizable voice on a certain song in the film and were possibly curious about the series of events leading up to that moment. The movie's soundtrack was actually almost quite different. In fact, it could've been an indie rock masterpiece. So what happened?

They Might Be Giants wrote more music for Coraline

They Might Be Giants has been around since 1982, but the band's most recent work, "BOOK," came out in 2021. The best-loved albums from TMBG are probably "Lincoln" and "Flood," released in 1988 and 1990, respectively. While I do love those albums, I have a particular soft spot for 1994's "John Henry." They Might Be Giants are unabashedly fun, unique, and often use instruments you probably wouldn't expect. They've also contributed theme songs to quite a few TV shows, including "Malcolm in the Middle" and, beginning in the early aughts, found success in making albums for children.

There is a brief moment — literally 30 seconds — in "Coraline" when Other Father (voiced by TMBG collaborator John Hodgman) is playing the piano and sings a tune known only as "Other Father Song." Well, technically the piano is playing itself. Those familiar with They Might Be Giants might wonder why that tiny snippet is there at all or why that's all there is. I know I did. Well, it turns out the band was actually hired to contribute more to the movie than just that one song. John Flansburgh told Free Lance-Star (via The Playlist) that the band's contributions were cut in the production process. He explained:

"It was a strange experience. They basically wanted the music to be more creepy. It was unfortunate–we did a lot of sort of preliminary work, there were a lot of false starts, and we never really found a rhythm to work with them. I guess there's one of our songs in the movie momentarily, but it's sort of unfortunate."

The song "Careful What You Pack" was also created for "Coraline," and the band put it on their 2007 album, "The Else," but there are more unreleased tunes made for the movie as well.

Henry Selick loved the contributions from They Might Be Giants

Although those woking on "Coraline" ultimately chose to go a different direction, opting for something darker, writer/director Selick loved They Might Be Giants' contributions to the soundtrack. He told Gothamist that working with the band was actually "happenstance." Selick explained:

"Someone I worked with, Courtney Booker, who did a little of the early color work on 'Coraline,' did a rock video for them, for the song 'Bastard Wants to Hit Me.' And so I told her I was a big fan and we managed to get together. They actually did some other demo songs that are brilliant, they are beautiful, but the film just kind of changed; it wasn't going to become a musical. I was very happy to work with them and I'd love to work with them on another show where they have like ten songs in it. I'm wondering whether to convince them to write all new songs for their, like, 'Yellow Submarine,' or to just work with them and pick the ten best songs and see if I can find a way to string them together for a story."

While I wouldn't trade Bruno Coulais' fantastic score, it would've been amazing if "Coraline" had been able to incorporate even another song or two from TMBG. Hopefully, one day band and director will be reunited as Selick mentioned above. Granted, this interview was from 2009, but who wouldn't want to see a They Might Be Giants musical put together by stop-motion legend Henry Selick? I know I would. At least we have that collaboration between Selick, Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key to look forward to!