Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Horror, Comedy
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes, Rated PG
Starring (Voices of): Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, John Goodman
Written by Chris Butler (first-time screenwriter)
Directed by Chris Butler (feature-film debut), Sam Fell (Flushed Away,
The Tale of Despereaux)
ParaNorman takes the idea of a boy who sees dead people, and expands it into a feature-length film. From Laika Entertainment - the animation studio behind Corpse Bride and Coraline - comes an inventive and surprisingly funny film about a misunderstood boy and his quest to save his town from a witch's curse. It is the first stop-motion movie to use a 3D color printer to create character faces.
It is no surprise that this story was supposedly turned down by Disney in the 1980s. This film has an adult edge to it, with even a few curse words thrown in. There are some truly scary sequences in this movie that make me wonder is Stevie Wonder is the current head of the MPAA ratings board, as somehow this film was slapped with a PG rating. It could easily be PG-13.
Norman is a boy fascinated with zombies and scary movies. This may be in part due to his ability to see and communicate with the undead, such as his grandma whom he watches movies with in his den. His parents and bratty teenage sister vehemently disapprove of Norman's supposed ability, and this trait has also made him an outcast at school.
The basic details of the plot are nothing special, as the story is your basic underdog loser who becomes a hero when he saves his town and everybody realizes that they under-estimated him. But it excels in how cleverly it has conceived the characters.
Along with Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee, the young boy from Let Me In) is another picked-on outcast, the fat and freckly Neil (Tucker Albrizzi). Neil's older brother is the supposed jock, Mitch (Casey Affleck) who Norman's sister (Anna Kendrick) can't stop drooling over. Then there is Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, you know, Superbad's McLovin), the dumb-as-a-doorknob bully.
The unlikely group teams up to battle a witch who has been awaken, and a pack of zombies that seem to be on a path to terrorize the town. What looks to be your run-of-the-mill horror movie surprisingly ends up saying something - no, a lot - about our society.
If this exact script was used with real actors instead of animation, and bloody realism was substituted for cartoon violence, ParaNorman could have been a damned-good live-action horror movie. Really, the animation and a gentle restrain from the directors are the only things holding this film back from R-rated territory. The master-stroke of the film is how it takes its time to develop each character, making us invested. The fatal flaw of most horror movies is knowing that many of the characters are disposable. Here, we care.
The 3D stop-motion makes for a unique experience, and Norman himself is a rich 3-dimensional character with or without the glasses. You can just tell that this film was made not to please a studio, or to hit a target audience, but to convey this story in a unique way.
For a so-called "kids" movie, it is effective in how it gets across important messages, like believing in yourself, and standing up for what's right. It also sneakily paints a horrific picture of us adults, and the pitfalls of a mob-mentality. When the townspeople riot and call for the heads of the zombies without asking questions, they might as well be mindless zombies. Brilliant.
And for a "children's" movie to end with The White Stripe's "Little Ghosts," over the end credits, is OK in my book.
ParaNorman is not for small children despite the PG-rating. But it is one of the most delightful, thoughtful, and well-made animated films of the year. My only gripe: Why not release this film at Halloween?
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