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Villain Overview

Buttons? You like them? I'm your Other Mother, silly!
~ The Beldami ntroducing herself to Coraline.
You may come out when you learn to be a loving daughter.
~ The Beldam "disciplining" Coraline after she refuses to have buttons sewn over her eyes.

The Beldam (also known as The Other Mother when disguised as victims’s mothers) is the main antagonist of Neil Gaiman's 2002 dark fantasy young adult novel Coraline, which was adapted into Laika's 1st full-length animated feature film of the same name.

The Beldam is a powerful witch/fey creature and the ruler of the Other World. She lures children into her realm by disguising herself as their "Other Mother". Once lured, she sews buttons in their eyes, consumes their flesh, and keeps their souls as her prisoners.

She was voiced by Teri Hatcher, who also played Ms. Gradenko in Spy Kids and Rhea in Supergirl.

Differences Between Novel and Film

The Beldam appears in both the novel and film version of Coraline. In both versions she takes the form of Coraline's mother, but has shiny black buttons where her eyes should be.

  • In the book, the Other Mother is described as being similar to Coraline's mother, but with a few noticeable differences betraying her otherworldly nature: besides the black button eyes, her skin is pale and chalky, her fingers are described as "a little too long" with red claw-like nails, and constantly twitching. Her hair is darker and appears to be moving as if caught in a slight breeze. Unlike the film, her form doesn't change at all during the course of the story, though she is shown to have no reflection in mirrors (when questioned, the Beldam tells Coraline that "mirrors aren't to be trusted"). When the Cat scratches her face, she bleeds a black, tar-like ichor.
    • In the film, the Other Mother is almost identical to Coraline's mother, but made "prettier"- her eye bags and neck brace is gone, her hair is neat and glossy, her nose is no longer crooked, and she wears bright red lipstick and more vibrant clothes. When angered by Coraline's refusal to stay, she transforms into a taller, more skeletal version of herself, with impossibly long limbs and neck and deep, sunken cheekbones. She seems to have more shapeshifting prowess than the novel version, able to look exactly like Coraline's real mother for a brief moment, eyes and all, only to quickly shapeshift into her "true" form once Coraline is in her clutches.
    • At the climax of the film before Coraline escapes, the Other Mother's body has visibly broken down like the rest of her world: her skin is cracked like porcelain, her neck and torso are segmented and skeletal, her outfit is faded and abstract in shape, her two legs are replaced with a set of four spindly metal legs ending in sharp points, and her hands have worn away to reveal a "skeleton" made out of sewing needles. When scratched by the cat, she does not bleed, though her button eyes are plucked off, rendering her blind.
  • In the book, the Other Mother uses an army of rats to spy on the human world. These rats are black with red eyes, and are able to speak in high-pitched, wheezing voices, mostly in ominous, foreboding rhymes.
    • In the film, she has a group of kangaroo mice employed by the Other Mr. Bobinski in his jumping mouse circus. Their "true" form is that of a large, ugly rat, and in both forms they have black button eyes like everything else in the Other World. The Other Mother's main method of spying is through the eyes of dolls that she makes in the likeness of her current victim. This is shown in the opening credit sequence, where the Beldam creates a doll identical to Coraline and places it in the human world for her to find.
  • In the book, while making the deal to find Coraline's parents and the souls of the children, the Beldam first swears "on her mother's grave", and makes a dark joke about how "I put her there myself, and when she tried to get out, I put her back in". Whether this indicates she has human or at least biological origins is debatable, given her manipulative nature. This is never brought up in the film.
    • In the film, the Beldam never makes this reference, though instead of looking for the souls of the three ghost children, she has Coraline search for their "eyes", all of which take the form of small, spherical objects (namely a pearl ring, a small circus ball, and the knob of a stick shift).
  • In the book, none of the Beldam's past victims were linked to Coraline whatsoever.
    • In the film, one of the Beldam's victims was the Sweet Ghost Girl. She was the twin sister of Mrs. Lovat, whose grandson is Wybie, Coraline's frenemy and eventual friend.

Appearance

The appearance of the Beldam changes throughout the movie. Her modus operendi is to disguise herself as a child's mother to lure them into her world- In Coraline's case, she disguised herself as Mel Jones, Coraline's mother. In all of her appearances, she has shiny black button sewn into her head where her eyes would be (which were ripped by the Cat in the climax of the film).

In her first appearance, she looked identical to Mel Jones, but with better hairstyle, red lipstick and no bags under her button eyes. When she had a heated conversation with Coraline, and after she reveals her true colors to Coraline, she transformed into a longer and scarier version of herself, having an overall skeletal appearance. Also, her lipstick is now black instead of red.

After Coraline grabbed all of the three eyes of the Ghost Children, the Beldam is shown as a cross between a skeleton and an arachnid, which is also her true form. She stays in this form for the remainder of the movie.

Personality

She spied on our lives, through the little doll's eyes, and saw that we weren't happy. So she lured us away, with treasures and treats, and games to play. Gave all that we asked, yet we still wanted more. So we let her sew the buttons. She said she loved us... but she locked us up here, and ate up our lives.
~ The ghost children explaining what the Beldam did to them.

Under her disguise of her victims' mothers, the Beldam appears to be a very loving and charismatic maternal figure, especially for troubled or bored children. Alluding to her archaic background, the Beldam speaks very eloquently, uses relatively old-fashioned language and seeks to maintain a traditional family through loving (this appears to be genuine at first) discipline. She is also very observant and vigilant of the problems and desires her victims have in the real world. Through this, she recreates the Other World into becoming their idealized dreamworlds.

The Beldam is highly skilled in the arts of motherhood. She is very good at cooking and sewing and is eager to play rough and daring games with her victims. Her creations are obedient to her ways and the Beldam frequently encourages them to do whatever they can to convince their victims to stay in the Other World forever. Even though her calm and composed demeanor can creep her victims out, the Beldam is extremely skillful in hiding her ulterior motives, no matter how intelligent or mature her victims are (i.e. Coraline). The Beldam frequently uses wordplay to disguise her ulterior motives and subtly taps her fingers every time to indicate this.

The Other Mother's sadistic smile after Coraline tells her that if she loses the game, then she would allow her to sew buttons over her eyes.

When her true nature is revealed, she instantly drops her loving maternal figure and becomes a cruel and authoritarian figure who is determined to do anything to consume her victims' flesh and souls, no matter how twisted and sadistic these measures are. This includes torturing her creations, especially those who genuinely care for the Beldam's victims, so that they could be driven to do things against their will, such as harming innocent children. She punishes her creations who are unwilling to harm others by mutilating and killing them.

Her sadism comes to its fullest effect when she gouges out her victims' eyes, sews buttons over it without anesthesia and consumes their flesh and souls until they become empty ghost-like shells. Though she has no qualms in relishing in savagery, the Beldam chooses to maintain her charisma by disparaging her victims in a sweet and motherly tone and an extremely condescending and sarcastic manner. Her love of games takes a darker turn as she challenges those who question her authority to participate in dangerous games to "prove" themselves. However, the Beldam is heavily implied to have planned these games from the very beginning and its presumed that she initially set these games up for her sadistic pleasure and boast about her power.

Despite preaching about how those who disobey must be harshly disciplined, the Beldam breaks the rules of her own games if they are inconvenient to her agenda. This is shown when she outright refuses to acknowledge that Coraline has won the "game" of finding the eyes of the Ghost Children despite previously agreeing (albeit reluctantly) to Coraline's deal of letting her go if she won. This is because, without Coraline, she'd starve to death.

Perhaps her most distinctive trait is her "love". At first, the Beldam seems to genuinely love her victims, caring for them and giving them a world that they cannot afford in the real world. When she reverts to her true nature, the Beldam still loves her victims but in a much more perverted and disturbing way. Her love, thus, could be described as how as a parsimonious miser loves his gold or in a more serious and accurate comparison, how a child predator loves his/her victims, considering the ages of her victims.

Her twisted love is much more emphasized in the novel, where Coraline briefly gets Stockholm Syndrome by sympathizing (at the very slightest) and allowing her to care for her as if she were her daughter. It is very parasitic and she sees them as nothing but objects and pets, who are ready to be discarded if they "bore" her. Her self-centered love is eventually what causes her downfall as she seeks to destroy everything, including the world, that she rules over, until she could get what she wants - Coraline's life for a meal and her soul for a prisoner. To somehow prove that her "love" is all that her victims need, the Beldam convinces them that their parents have neglected and abandoned them and even induces hallucinations of this occurring.

Powers and Abilities

She has this other world where everything is better, the food, the garden...the neighbors. But it's all a TRAP!
~ Coraline to Wybie about the Beldam.

The Beldam's ability to have control over nature.

The Beldam holds near-omnipotent power over the Other World and is able to manipulate the universe into appearing whatever she wishes. However, she cannot create things out of scratch but rather recreate things that have already existed, twisting and changing them to suit her needs, implying that she has limited powers in the world she rules in. From this, fans speculate that the Beldam discovered rather than created the Other World. This theory has more weight for the novel since the Beldam may have human origins, which can implicate that the Beldam, at some point of her life, stumbled into the Other World and settled there.

Regardless, her power over the Other World is vast, able to manipulate space, matter, and even the weather, summoning rain and lightning in an instant (complete with lightning bolts shaped like her clawed hand). The rooms and homes of the Other versions of the Pink Palace tenants are much larger and more elegant than their real counterparts, and far larger inside than outside (especially true for the Other Spink and Forcible's theater). During Coraline's game to find the eyes of the ghost children, these places are transformed into darker, twisted, and more dangerous versions of themselves, and the occupants turned into monstrous versions of themselves.

When walking out into the woods beyond the Other Pink Palace, Coraline discovers that the farther she goes from the house, the less detailed the trees become, become like a child's drawing of trees, or "the idea of trees" before finally the world ended in a featureless white expanse. The Cat explains that the Beldam only created enough of the world to impress Coraline, and anything beyond that was just emptiness. After walking for a bit more, Coraline eventually ended up back at the house, implying that the Other World is either very small or loops around itself.

As the Beldam's power starts to wane with each child's eyes/souls found by Coraline, the house begins to wither away- in the movie, the house physically falls apart- wallpaper peeling, floorboards falling away, and walls vanishing until only the living room with the tiny door remains.


The Beldam shapeshifting into her true self.

She often makes bargains with her victims in order to obtain their flesh and souls to feed upon, similar to how people make deals with the Devil in order to achieve fame, power etc. and is able to steal and imprison souls, which alludes to her demonic nature. The Other Mother is also quite physically powerful as she is able to rapidly climb up a gigantic spiderweb when she chases Coraline and is able to bang on the door so hard that the passageway also pushes forward as she tries to break the door down forwards. Despite being unable to exit the Other World like the other creations (except for her rats), her hand is the only body part that can exit the Other World. It is extremely powerful and can attack people and drag people in long distances and it is presumed that the Other Mother detached her own hand in order to send the button-eyed ragdolls to the real world as her hand acts like a "robot".

The Beldam is also quite talented in disguising herself to look like a completely different and an otherwise normal-looking human female compared to her skeleton/arachnoid form in order to lure and deceive her victims. She can transform into any appearance that she desires and can even transform herself into looking like a normal human being from the real world without the button eyes.

The Inhabitants of the Other World

The inhabitants of the Other World are the Beldam's creations and like her, they have button eyes but they are created out of sawdust like the button-eyed ragdolls that she sends to her victims unlike herself.

The inhabitants depend on the type of people that the Beldam's victims live within the real world so they could feel more comforted and be tempted to stay forever. They are albeit enhanced duplicates of the people that her victim lives within the real world and are fun and entertaining just like the Other Mother. The Other Mother's army of rats are her most loyal creations and are responsible for physically luring her victims into the Other World.

In Coraline's case, the Other World inhabitants are Other Father, the Other Mr. Bobinsky, the Other Mice, the Other Spink, the Other Forcible, the other Spink and Forcible's Scottish Terriers, and the Other Wybie. The Other Wybie is the only Other inhabitant that is completely sympathetic to Coraline and shows no willingness, even when coerced, to harm her. 

However, as the magic of the Other World fades away as the Other Mother loses her powers and becomes more and more like her real self, so do the inhabitants of the Other World. They are in reality monstrous and rather demonic beings who violently attack anything that goes in their way and often have disturbing and distorted voices and screams, as seen when Coraline grabs the eyes of the Ghost Children from them during the game. 

Most of them have limited free will as the Beldam sees them as slaves, fit solely for the purpose of luring her victims into the Other World. However, she gives some of the inhabitants more free will to make the illusion of their loving and friendly personalities more "genuine". This is seen with the Other Wybie, who was given the most free will since the Beldam knew that the cause behind most of Coraline's frustrations with the real world was Wybie's annoying personality. However, this extended free will proved to be one of the Beldam's biggest mistakes since the Other Wybie used this as an advantage to actually try to help and rescue Coraline from the Beldam. This applied to a lesser extent for the Other Father but seeing that she needed to present herself as a proper mother (i.e. being the wife of a loving husband), it was probably a more pragmatic choice for the Beldam to make him a dutiful slave in luring Coraline.

They cannot escape the Other World as they are made out of sawdust and it is heavily implied that the sawdust serves as their "life energy" that is sustained by the powers of the Beldam, which are fully manifested in the Other World. If they move out of the Other World, they lose most of their "life energy" hence would die quickly just like how fish out of water die quickly, explaining why the Other Wybie refused to escape with Coraline when he had the chance. The rats are the only creations that can leave the Other World since they use less of their "life energy" due to their smaller size. It is unknown why the Other Mother cannot escape the Other World despite not being made out of sawdust, but it can be assumed that it's because her height as the door is too small for her.

Once the Other inhabitants are done doing the Beldam's biddings, she "recycles" them for her next victim. They were all eventually killed (inadvertently) by Coraline when she played the game in finding the eyes of the ghost children. Whether the Other Mother has the ability to resurrect any Other inhabitant who dies or not is beyond anyone's guess, but given that Coraline precluded her from capturing any more children, she would had no reason to bring them back.

Quotes

You're just in time for supper, dear!
~ The Beldam's first words to Coraline.
We've been waiting for you, Coraline.
~ The Beldam's warm yet subtly sinister greetings.
See you soon ...
~ The Beldam as Coraline goes to sleep.
Welcome back, darling.
~ The Beldam to Coraline during her second visit to the Other World.
I thought you'd like him more if he talked a little less. So I fixed him.
~ The Other Mother about the Other Wybie.
You do like it here, don't you, Coraline? You could stay here forever , if you want to.
~ The Beldam enticing Coraline to stay in the Other World forever.
Oh, but we need a yes, if you want to stay here. (Other Father: So sharp you won't feel a thing *gets kicked by the Beldam for saying this*) There now; it's your decision darling, we only want what's best for you. You're welcome. And I-we aren't worried at all darling. Soon, you'll see things our way.
~ The Beldam after Coraline rejects the "choice" to have buttons sewn over her eyes.
You could stay here forever... if you want to.
~ The Beldam telling Coraline she can stay in the Other World forever.
There's one tiny little thing we need to do. *shows a box of buttons* For you, our little doll. Black is traditional. But if you prefer pink, or vermillion or chartreuse, though you might make me jealous.
~ The Beldam offering Coraline the "choice" of having buttons sewn over her eyes.
They say even the proudest spirit can be broken, with love.
~ The Beldam mocking Coraline's determined attempts to return home.
Is that any way to talk to your mother? (Coraline: You aren't my mother!) Apologize at once, Coraline! (Coraline: NO!) I'll give you to the count of three. One... ...two... ...THREE!
~ The Beldam reveals her true hideous nature to Coraline.
Coraline? Is that you? (Coraline: (*To the Other Wybie*) Let's go!) Coraline! (Coraline: (*To the Other Wybie*) Come on! She'll hurt you again) (*The Other Wybie shows that he is not real as he is made out of sawdust as he refuses to go*) Coraline! (*Coraline looks up in fear as the Beldam walks downstairs*) How dare you disobey your mother! (*The Other Wybie shoves Coraline to the tunnel so she could escape and closes the door behind her, sacrificing himself to save the latter*) Coraline!
~ The Beldam, after Coraline escaped the mirror.
I swear it. I swear it on my mother's grave. (Coraline: Does she have a grave?) Oh yes. I put her in there myself. And when I found her trying to crawl out, I put her back.
~ The Beldam recounting about she buried (and possibly killed) her own mother (novel only).
Gosh, I have no idea where your "old" parents are. Perhaps they've grown bored of you and run away to France.
~ The Other Mother lying to Coraline about her missing parents and Coraline not buying it.
Shhh! The garden squash need tending, don't you think, pumpkin?
~ The Beldam to the Other Father after he says to much.
(Coraline: Why don't we play ... a game? I know you like them.) Everybody likes games.
~ The Beldam admitting to liking games.
What kind of game would it be? (Coraline: An exploring game. A finding things game.) And what is it you’d be finding, Coraline? (Coraline: My real parents.) Too easy. (Coraline: And the eyes of the ghost children.)
~ The Beldam asking Coraline what she’d be finding for their “game”.
In each of three wonders I've made just for you, a ghost eye is lost in plain sight.
~ The Beldam's clue to Coraline about the location of the eyes of the Ghost children.
Oh Wybie...EVIL WITCH I'M NOT SCARED!
~ Coraline after she sees the Other Wybie's clothings after his off-screen murder by the Beldam.
So... you're back. And you've brought... vermin with you?
~ The Beldam, upon seeing Coraline with the cat.
You know I love you.
~ The Beldam expressing her twisted love to Coraline.
So? Where are they - the ghost eyes?
~ The Beldam asking Coraline to hand over the ghost eyes.
(Coraline: We aren't finished yet, are we?) No, I suppose not. After all, you still need to find your old parents, don't you? Too bad you won't have this.
~ The Beldam before burning the triangle candy in the fireplace.
You're wrong Coraline, they aren't there... now you're going to stay here forever.
~ The Beldam declaring her victory.
YOU HORRIBLE CHEATING GIRL!
~ The Other Mother's breakdown before transforming the floor into a spiderweb.
NO! Where are you?! You SELFISH BRAT!!!
~ The Other Mother, after Coraline avoids being crushed by her.
YOU DARE DISOBEY YOUR MOTHER?!
~ The Beldam to Coraline.
DON'T LEAVE ME! DON'T LEAVE ME! I'LL DIE WITHOUT YOU!
~ The Beldam's last words.

Trivia

  • The name "Beldam" is a reference to a fairy-tale being, also known as "La Belle Dame sans Merci" ("the beautiful lady without pity") from the poem of the same name by John Keats. The poem tells the story of an unnamed knight wandering in a barren and haggard land, who encounters a beautiful and mysterious woman with bright and wild eyes who draws him to her secret grotto with claims of love, then puts him into an enchanted sleep. The knight dreams of ghostly beings who warn him that he is under la Belle Dame's thrall; when he awakens, the woman and her home have vanished, leaving him back on the barren hillside. The word "Beldam" is also an archaic word meaning "Witch" or "Hag".
  • The Beldam was originally the oldest (both from a "character's age" and "studio" standpoint) Laika villain (the former role being surpassed by Raiden the Moon King).
  • Ashland, Oregon, the town that the Pink Palace is located in, was founded in 1852, approximately the same time the Pink Palace Apartments was initially constructed. It's also implied that the Beldam is as old as the apartment itself.
  • When the Beldam speaks to Coraline, she sometimes refers to herself as "your (Coraline's) mother", most notably after she revealed her true colors to Coraline.
  • The Beldam's desire to consume Coraline's soul is foreshadowed during the initial dinner scenes. Whilst Coraline and the Other Father eat regular food, the Beldam has nothing on her plate and instead, looks at Coraline with delight. The only time the Beldam is shown to eat is when she eats live cocoa beetles. This not only indicates that the Beldam only wants human souls but that she prefers to eat them whilst they're (her victims) still alive. 
  • The song that the Beldam hums while she is in the kitchen is the same song that played during the opening credits.
  • While the Beldam's true identity is unknown, some fans have theorized that she presumably is the descendant of an ancient alien race with button eyes and spider-like characteristics. This is possibly backed up with the real appearance of the Other World, which is rumored to be located in a cosmic realm considering that there's always night (only in the film canon). However, given the appearances of the Ghost Children and that the Other World is revealed to be an endless void, it is likely that the Beldam's origins are more paranormal than extraterrestrial, contributing to the film's fear factor.
  • Some fans speculate that when the Beldam told Coraline that "everyone has an other mother", she was actually telling the truth and not simply using figurative speech. This would indicate that many more of her kind exist. Considering that the Other World is implied to be older than the Beldam and that she has no true power over it (she can only manipulate objects in the Other World), this could be the case. 
  • In the film, the side of the door facing both the real world and the Other World do not have door knobs. It was most likely built this way because once locked, it would effectively trap the victims forever (given that the key is hidden).
  • The Seamstress in the film 9 was a nod to the Other Mother in Coraline, due to their metallic hands. Both films were created by Focus Features and both films came out in the year 2009.

External Links

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          LaikaTitle.png Villains

Animated Features
Coraline: The Beldam | Other Mr. Bobinsky | Other Spink & Other Forcible | Other Father
ParaNorman: Agatha Prenderghast | Judge Hopkins
The Boxtrolls: Archibald Snatcher | Mr. Gristle | Mr. Trout | Mr. Pickles
Kubo and the Two Strings: Raiden the Moon King | Karasu and Washi | Giant Skeleton | Garden of Eyes
Missing Link: Lord Piggot-Dunceby | Willard Stenk | Mr. Collick | The Yeti Elder

Short Films
Moongirl: Gargaloons

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