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“ParaNorman” Delivers Stop Motion Thrills

August 20, 2012

By John C.

The co-directors of ParaNorman, Chris Butler and Sam Fell, have described their excellent animated film as “John Carpenter meets John Hughes.”  Throw in a dose of vintage Steven Spielberg, and you get a good way to describe this utterly unique stop motion film, which has been a passion project for Chris Butler since he first started working on the story amidst all of those quintessential 1980s inspirations.

These comparisons work because the film is an animated zombie movie, where the characters are given a sharp script that allows them to actually talk about their problems with ample opportunities for humour, and the one saving the day is a tweenager, just like in The Goonies.  The fact that I like these references only adds to my enjoyment.  We were all big fans of the film which opened on Friday, but unfortunately weren’t able to publish full reviews.

At eleven years old, Norman Babcock (voice of Kodi Smitt McPhee) is going through a rough time in his life and at school.  His parents (Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin) don’t understand him, his older sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) just wants him to be normal and his only friend is the chubby Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) who is just as much of an outsider.  It doesn’t help that Norman can communicate with ghosts, interacting with the spirits of people who have died and still have unfinished business left with the living.

But Norman’s uncle Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman) is warning him of an ancient curse that is set to be unleashed upon their town, and the group of adolescents along with Neil’s older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) and the dimwitted Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) are the only ones who can stop it.  With zombies rising from their graves and a vengeful witch threatening the town because of a tragedy three hundred years earlier, they only have one night to set things right.  “There’s nothing wrong with being scared,” the ghost of Norman’s grandmother (Elaine Stritch) tells him over a pivotal scene, “so long as you don’t let it change who you are.”

The animation is nothing short of groundbreaking, and when we remind ourselves that everything seen on screen is a physical object that actually exists outside of the movie universe, this just makes it all the more breathtaking.  The large crowd scenes and reaction shots during conversations are particularly hard for stop motion, but the animators at Laika who also gave us the brilliant Coraline meet the challenge time and again throughout this film.  The fact that everything was made and manipulated by human hands gives a very tactile feel to the entire film and this natural sense of depth lends itself very well to 3D.  The stunning climax of the film is especially exhilarating in the third dimension, with a creepy forest providing the backdrop for some of the most touching scenes.

This really is a film about the acceptance of those who are different and how a victim could be pushed to the point of becoming a bully, and these themes are brought up in a surprisingly moving and complex finale that brings a lot of depth to the entire story.  The screenplay brings up themes of death and moving on in a refreshingly honest and sometimes surprisingly frank way, providing a lot to think about for the older members of the audience.  Although I wouldn’t recommend ParaNorman to young kids who will likely be terrified by much of the film, those ten or eleven and up should be fine with it.  What’s telling is that some parents are more bothered by the mild language and sexual references in the film, than they are worried about some of the genuine scares on display.

In the grand tradition of modern classics like Monster House and Coraline, this is a dark animated film that deserves the PG rating and parents should use their brains before taking their kids to the theatre and then complaining about the film.  With that said, the film gets our stamp of approval for everyone else.  For older kids and adults, ParaNorman provides a surprisingly deep and thoroughly entertaining stop motion thrill ride that will hold up well to repeat viewings.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Brittany Davis permalink
    December 14, 2012 12:53 pm

    I loved this movie! I have it on my IPod Touch. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies and plus it was released to theaters on my birthday (August 17th: how awesome is that?!)

    Like

    • December 14, 2012 5:49 pm

      So glad to hear that enjoyed ParaNorman as much as we did and it’s cool that the film opened on your birthday!

      As always, thanks for reading and commenting!

      -John C.

      Like

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