One miserably wet summer, Coraline Jones moves into a flat in an old house, with her parents who are too busy with work to pay much attention to her. She discovers a mysterious locked door in the drawing room of the flat; when she gets her mother to open the door, it swings open to reveal nothing but a brick wall. But one day, when bored and left alone in the flat by her mother, Coraline tries the door again, it opens to reveal a corridor leading to a flat quite like her own, but not quite. She ventures further into the flat, where she comes across her mother cooking in the kitchen, except her skin is paper white, she is taller and thinner, her fingers too long and her fingernails curved, sharp and dark red. The woman turns round; her eyes are big black buttons. She is the other mother and she is cooking food that smells awfully tasty. Coraline soon discovers that her father and her other neighbours in this strange world also have buttons for eyes, oh and the cat that hangs round the building can now talk.
Coraline decides that this other world is rather more interesting than her own, but when told that she could stay, as long as she exchanged her own eyes for buttons, she decides that she could never do that and returns back home through the tunnel. However when she gets home she discovers that her real parents have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Coraline soon realises that she will have to go back through the tunnel to rescue them.
Back in the other mother’s world, the other mother soon learns that Coraline is not prepared to love her and she is thrown into the hallway mirror, where she meets three ghost children, who are also held captive. One tells Coraline, as she falls asleep, to look through the stone given to her earlier by Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, two of Coraline’s neighbours. The next day Coraline uses the stone in a game of challenge with the other mother; everyone will be released if Coraline can find their lost souls. Coraline finds the souls but she still has to find her parents and persuade the other mother to reopen the door to the tunnel between the two houses. Coraline does this by tricking the other mother to open the door, Coraline then grabs the snow globe which she has realised contains her parents and with the souls of the three children in her pocket and followed by the cat, she escapes through the tunnel. However, something else comes through the tunnel as well, the other mother’s hand, which wants the key to the doorway back. Coraline manages to get rid of the hand by tricking it into falling into the old well in the back garden.