Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell
In ParaNorman, the latest animated adventure by the fine folks behind Coraline, we follow an 11-year-old horror-loving outcast named Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who finds himself bullied at school regularly and chastised by his family because he insists to everyone that he can really see and communicate with the dead. Not one to feel down about his lot in life, Norman’s comfort comes from the zombie movies he watches with the ghost of his beloved grandmother (the always hilarious Elaine Stritch) and kind-hearted ghosts around him.
But when his crazy Uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman), who also has similar powers, dies unexpectedly, Norman must become a hero whether he wants to or not as he’s the only one who can protect his small town- Blithe Hollow – from a centuries-old witch’s curse and a gaggle of zombies to boot. Realizing this job is too big for just one 11-year-old, Norman recruits a few unlikely helpers for the momentous task, including his superficial older sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), the school bully named Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and fellow outcast and schoolmate Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), with Neil’s jock-ish older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) playing chauffeur to the group throughout their misadventures once the zombies are on the loose and the vengeful witch is unleashed.
It’s up to Norman and the rest of the gang to get to the bottom of the curse that has plagued Blithe Hollow for hundreds of years and put an end to it before it’s too late for them and the rest of the town’s residents.
For anyone who grew up loving horror or has ever felt like maybe they just didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the world (two sentiments that undoubtedly apply to most readers here- this writer included), ParaNorman feels like exactly the kind of movie you probably would have watched a thousand times over and over growing up. Sure, both the plot and the characters are presented in a very simplistic manner (mostly for the film’s intended younger audience), but it’s the way the material is handled by directing duo Chris Butler and Sam Fell, who keep us engaged throughout while using some of the most incredible stop-motion animation techniques to ever grace the big screen, making ParaNorman a wholly satisfying experience for both kids and all those ‘kids at heart’ out there.
Butler, who also penned the ParaNorman script and was a storyboard artist on Coraline, and Fell, who directed the animated flicks The Tale of Despereaux and Flushed Away, create a wonderfully quirky world here in ParaNorman that feels vibrantly melancholy with so many horror homages peppered throughout that you’ll need at least a second viewing to be able to catch most of them. And while the story in ParaNorman is primarily crafted for anyone under the age of 10, there is certainly enough horror-infused entertainment coursing through the animated flick’s veins for us older folks to appreciat. Whether it’s the brilliant, tongue-in-cheek opener that’s an homage to the classic slow zombie films we all grew up on to the John Carpenter-esque synth score that begins pulsating anytime the residents of Blithe Hollow are under attack by the zombie’s unleashed by the witch’s curse, there’s no doubt that both Fell and Butler are tried and true horror fans who aren’t afraid to let their geek flags fly in ParaNorman.
The look of the flick and the 3D technology used both make ParaNorman quite a marvel to behold on the big screen; the characters have an angular, quirky look that has an early Aardman Animation feel to it with the warmly muted color palette brought to life subtly by 3D, which seems to have been used more for giving the film depth than playing for a few “in your face” three-dimensional gags.
The entire voice cast of ParaNorman is stellar, led by Smit-McPhee, who brings an instantaneous likability and quirky charm to our hero that makes it hard to believe the other characters in the film could ever not accept him. Unlike another famous tot who can ‘see dead people,’ Norman is actually comfortable in his own skin as well as with his lot in life, therefore keeping our hero far more lighthearted than you may expect at first.
Goodman is also particularly fun as Norman’s zany brutish Uncle Prenderghast, with his role feeling somewhat of an homage to Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. It was also pretty awesome to see a handful of familiar voices used to round out the cast in ParaNorman, including the aforementioned Kendrick, Affleck, Mintz-Plasse and Stritch as well as “Cosby Show” star Tempestt Bledsoe, funny guy Jeff Garlin and Alex Borstein from “Family Guy.”
Simply made in mind to cater to the kid in all of us, ParaNorman is not only the best animated film I’ve seen this year (there are still a few contenders in the coming months that could mix things up), but as someone who enjoys anything that can keep me smiling and introduce a new generation of film fans to the world I grew up loving, ParaNorman is definitely a film that will be making my top 5 list at the end of 2012.
While its story may not be anything you haven’t seen before (especially if you grew up in the 1980’s like me), it’s how Butler and Fell spin all these familiar tropes together while bringing it all to life through some of the most stunning stop-motion animation ever that makes ParaNorman infectiously charming and just so much damn fun to watch; both Fell and Butler have created an instant animation classic that should no doubt delight audiences for years to come.
4 out of 5