Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Writer: Chris Butler
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Jodelle Ferland, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Elaine Stritch
Country: United States
MPAA Rating: PG
Time: 93 minutes
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror
USA Release: 8/17/2012
On DVD (USA): 11/27/2012
When most people think of animated films nowadays they immediately think of Pixar, which has brought out such instant classics like “Toy Story”, “Up” and “WALL-E”. And since Pixar began other companies have tried their hardest to make the same reaction with audiences, with films like “The Adventures of Tintin”, “How to Train Your Dragon”, among others. It’s these other companies like Laika that bought us “Coraline” in 2009 that have pushed the bar with the complexity of stop-motion as well as interesting and unusual stories, both of which can be seen in Laika’s latest film, “ParaNorman”.
“ParaNorman” follows the unusual life of Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), he is just a typical kid who just happens to be able to see and speak to the dead. Living in the small New England town of Blithe Hollow which seems to have ghost on every corner from every decade doesn’t help Norman escape ridicule and bullying when seen talking to a dead raccoon or the wind. But this town just happens to carry a curse of it’s own that seems to be almost celebrated more than feared, since it deals with a witch. However one day Norman is confronted by his estranged and crazed Uncle, Mr. Prenderghast (voiced by John Goodman), who says he understands what Norman is going though and that Norman is needed to take over his unofficial duties of protecting the town from the 300 year old curse. Of course Norman just thinks he is crazy but when Norman has another vision during the school play, he decides to go do what his Uncle said.
Although Laika is a fairly new company in developing feature length animated films they have delivered brilliant stop-motion animation and innovative stories that shy away from your typical family film. Their first efforts were seen in the 2009 film “Coraline” that went on to become not only a critical and box office success but also earned itself a Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. While “Coraline” faced some tough fellow nominees back then, this year “ParaNorman” definitely has a higher chance at winning, although it is up agents the likes of “Brave” and “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” (although I haven’t had the chance to see either of them) which also have had good reviews, but “ParaNorman” should definitely get a nom. Anyway while I do tend to like family/kids movies from time to time, you do run the risk of getting the same story told again and again just in a different form and also having it mostly appeal to the kids while the adults suffer in silence. This however like a new trend happening in some of the family friendly films, are making sure that the parents walk away as satisfied as the kids, “ParaNorman” is one of those films.
While the story written by Chris Butler, has some predictability and typicalness to it that deals with how people react to situations that they don’t understand or are scared of, it contains a really good adventure that leads to that point instead of being the whole plot. Granted when it does reach it, it slows the film down a bit and has you going “really?, it’s all about that?”. Maybe that is what contributed to this flatness that seem to hit in waves throughout the film. That being said I still found it to be refreshing with it’s creepy Halloween like story. For the majority of the film, it’s a tribute to the horror genre with cheesy fake classic films like the one Norman is watching in the beginning. It’s what give us this motivated adventure that unfortunately leads where it does but for a family film could you really expect it to be different, if it was it wouldn’t have been for the family. Another positive thing the film uses is its sense of humor, it probably know what the adults are thinking while watching this, they know the kids are entertained but they also play up the adults with great jokes and gags that has every audience member chuckling.
But probably the biggest drawl about this and probably “Coraline” as well is the beautiful stop-motion animation. It’s vibrant and just as creepy looking as the characters in “Coraline”, and just as unique. They seems to play joke to how unusual people can look at times during different situations, like changing a light bulb or a kid’s eye view of his parents. There were times that I actually forgot that I was watching an animated film, not just because the characters were engaging but because of how amazing the animation was. I’ve always loved the idea of stop-motion animation, how complicated it is and how precise you have to be when filming it, nothing can be out of place, just like regular hand drawn animation. Of course no animated film is complete without someone voicing the characters, while you can sometimes find new comers voicing, most of the time it’s notably well known actors and actresses. In “ParaNorman” we have actors from all types of films join together for this one, for instance Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and a surprising voice appearance by Tempestt Bledsoe. All of these actors do a great job voicing their characters, one of the best I thought was Kendrick who sounded completely different from her normal voice, and in a recent interview I saw on TV, I learned that she didn’t realize until later that she was making her voice sound different.
Overall “ParaNorman” is a fun and different family film that both parents and kids will get a kick out of. With it’s beautiful stop-motion as well as a story that has good heart and a tons of laughs, “ParaNorman” is sure to make it’s way to the 2013 Oscars. While it does have a few flaws that parents will notice more then the kids, it’s well worth checking out in theaters. It’s definitely a positive note to end the hot summer months with.