‘ParaNorman’ Movie Review – The Best of Both Worlds
The easiest way to make something seem childish is to make it animated. This isn’t to say that all animated works are child works, but it’s just an observation. And for every five child animated films, there is usually one that transcends the typecast. Right on time is Laika’s 3D stop-motion adventure-horror hybrid ParaNorman. While there are certainly aspects that appeal to children, the movie would’ve scared me at that age…which is hardly a criticism.
Young Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) has the Sixth Sense-like power of seeing the dead. Of course, nobody seems to believe him. Still, Norman goes on walking and talking with the dead. His “crazy” uncle (John Goodman) warns Norman of impending doom. On the 300th anniversary of the witch’s (Jodelle Ferland) curse, he must use his talking-to-the-dead powers to prevent her destruction.
With the help of another misunderstood classmate, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), and some unexpected allies (voiced by Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Anna Kendrick), the group sets out to stop the impending undead apocalypse.
Two things particularly caught my eye…with the pun being intended for the first part: ParaNorman is a great-looking film. I’ve never been a huge fan of 3D, but this was the first case where I didn’t get even the slightest head ache (or eye strain for that matter). I think it was smart, both aesthetically and thematically, for the animators to use darker colors.
And while I’ve stayed away from 3D mostly, I have always been a fan of stop-motion. Here, it doesn’t look as stop-motion-y as Fantastic Mr. Fox, but it’s a much more polished style (and I think each style works great for the respected movie).
Secondly, ParaNorman found a way to present both witches and zombies in a slightly different way. Starting with witches, I haven’t been a huge fan of how they’ve been portrayed, mostly because they’re made out to be mainly evil. With zombies, however, I’ve always had some sort of weird obsession with anything and everything undead. Much like the technical aspects, the narrative parts blended really well. The stuff I didn’t normally like was done very well, while the stuff I knew I’d like were altered enough to feel fresh.
ParaNorman doesn’t stop there either, because the script and presentation (voice acting) are great as well. It’s always nice to see a blend of familiar and not-so-familiar names. It’s also refreshing to hear new voices, since I didn’t expect the bigger names to be much into voice acting.
I still feel like there is an obligatory section about the not-so-great things. I feel like a lot of the things are nit-picky at best, though. This mostly includes a lot of the cliches – from how Norman was treated in school to how his teen sister (Kendrick) was characterized. Still, I’d say these are pretty small concerns that definitely exited at the final scene (which is beautifully scored by Jon Brion).
Luckily, too, the magic/paranormal part was put to rest early. Sometimes films overdo the magic, relying heavily on it for story. Here, though, it’s used partly because it looks cool (in 3D), but sparingly as to not detract.
ParaNorman is the best of both worlds. It’s a little scary for kids (I’m guessing), but great for their parents. Visually, it delivers the goods both with 3D and stop-motion. Narratively, it takes some refreshing turns. I’m really starting to get on-board with Laiki’s vision, and this is a great next step in putting the pressure on Pixar.