Who says that you need fancy CGI-animation to make one competent family-friendly film? If the recent stop-motion film “Coraline”, the animated series “Samurai Jack” and the Japanese anime movies directed by Hayao Miyazaki were any indication, filmmakers need not rely on fancy computer graphics to fill theater seats. All it takes is some old-fashioned creativity and imagination to bring viewers in a world of wonder. Directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler (who also wrote the script) seemed poised to repeat what they had done with “Coraline” with something that they had cooked up in the horror-zomedy “Paranorman”.
Blithe Hollow is a town that embraces its history. Shops and stores often carry a staple of its history entrenched in the supernatural. The town continues to make bank on the legend of an old witch curse who cursed her persecutors to an undead existence. If this story comes to fruition, the undead will rise to attack the townsfolk. Norman (Kodi Smith McPhee) is a young boy who loves horror movies and this is the town that he grew up in. He is also seen as the ‘weird boy’ since no one believes that he can talk to ghosts, as his own dead grandmother (Elaine Stritch) is even hanging around their house. Norman is satisfied just living and let live, but things get much weirder when Norman’s dead outcast uncle (John Goodman) tasks Norman to keep the witch’s curse from coming true. But something doesn’t fall properly into place and the dead do rise. Norman must enlist the aid of his friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), his jock brother Mitch (Casey Affleck), the school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and his shallow sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) to stop the legend from coming true. Legends are based on some truth, aren’t’ they? What Norman confronts is the secret of Agatha (Jodelle Ferland) instead…
“ParaNorman” is a film that feels like a throwback to the ‘70’s and 80’s horror movies as “Monster House“ was a homage to haunted horror movies . I loved “Monster House”, so perhaps it may be wrong for me to expect that same fun experience from “ParaNorman”. The film opens with an amusing parody of low-budget zombie movies and then with some ‘winks’ to “Halloween” and other low-budget ghost stories and tales of witchcraft. What the script does then is to wrap the movie with a story about kids and teenagers with wrapped around timely commentary about bullies, the issues of growing up and accepting who you really are.
The script embraces what it wants to be. The film truly did feel like one of those low-budget horror movies that you see in the drive-in in a different time and place. The music screams ‘low-budget’ and even the set pieces scream low-budget. It was wise for the filmmakers to use the stop-motion animation because it gave the film a feeling of novelty and of something that could bring back adults to their childhood memories. At first look, “ParaNorman” may feel like a kiddie flick that is buried in formula, and while it is indeed buried in cliché, it does try to make an effort in trying to relate to the more mature viewer. There is some morbid sense of humor that it utilizes which I enjoyed, and when these jokes do work, it works well. Yes, it does work most of the time, unfortunately, the script and the delivery of some jokes are very uneven, The dialogue does have this feeling of maturity at times, but the cliché soon catches up to it, and the jokes become rather predictable and its humor ends up being a little tiresome.
I understand that this film was probably intended to take fun pokes at horror movies and while I will not complain about its characters being stereotypes and cliché, I thought that the way the script flowed could’ve used much more finesse and imagination. I mean, I guess the pacing of the film and its momentum started to falter when the film began to have a straight face. It tries to do so many things in the last act, and all it does it to get a little messy and it lost its footing. I mean, I appreciated what it was trying to do, but the dialogue seemed to get a little sermonizing. It was easy to pick up on its message and I understood that the movie was trying to express its ‘heart’, but it got to the point of “pounding” that heartfelt message into my head.
Now, “ParaNorman” may be a little flawed, but it is a visual and aural feast that displays a creative and trail-blazing display of stop-motion animation. I mean, the character designs are excellent, and the flow of the animation was fluid, smooth while maintaining the feel that it is stop-motion. I found the way the characters designs were made to be inventive, it really had some personality traits designed into them (I was amused with the exaggeration of the ‘child-bearing hips’ and it is hard to get over the ‘skin imperfections’ in the animation). The set designs were so rich with detail and truly mimicked the atmosphere of the 70’s and 80’s horror movies. I did not see it in 3D but I can imagine that the added trickery may enhance its viewing experience. The scene when Norman finally confronted the legend was just awesome even without the 3D enhancements, it was the perfect blending of stop-motion animation and digital effects.
“ParaNorman” is a film whose outcome is good, but it just did not reach the potential greatness that it deserved. The growing pains of such filmmaking by a newer animation studio Laika showed, but still, “ParaNorman” was enjoyable. There was mild pacing issues and some obvious weaknesses in its scripting, that once it reaches the end of the 2nd act, I was a little bored by the last act. The direction should have taken a faster route to get to its conclusion, and focused more on its fun elements, made the action dictate its tempo, then it would have been one of the great ones in animation this year. Nonetheless, Laika is in its infancy with this second movie, and “ParaNorman” is a good effort that I liked (but wanted to love). It is a step in the right direction, it may have a few bumps but I can see Laika getting even better in the future.
Timid Recommendation for Animation Fans and a RENTAL for everybody else. [3 Out of 5 Stars]
** out of **** Whenever an animated film makes a commendable effort to reach out to multiple generations, I must give it props for that alone. They can't all be just for the kiddies; if a filmmaker can provide as good at time for the adults as for the children, then they deserve to be held in high regards. I personally like the animated fare that, while decidedly scarce due to unpopular demand, is geared for the most part towards a more mature audience. Stop-motion is a wonderful … more
Star Rating: Nine times out of ten, debating a film’s appropriateness for children is utterly pointless. But in the case of ParaNorman, a 3D stop-motion animated film about ghosts, zombies, and a witch’s curse, I cannot help but wonder what age group the filmmakers had in mind. With its morbid imagery, its broad and occasionally twisted sense of humor, and its handling of dark issues such as bullying, death, and the execution of suspected witches, … more