ParaNorman Netflix | Amazon | Google Play | SEN | Vudu | YouTube DVD | Blu-ray Directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jodelle Micah Ferland, Tucker Albrizzi, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, John Goodman Focus Features Originally Released: August 03, 2012
The surprisingly good venture into the macabre and demonic in the stop-motion animated film known as ParaNorman is full of both frights and laughs, in a tale that finishes up being as endearing as it is exciting. With precision on effects and careful attention to detail, the film is well worth your viewing time, full of tributes to classics, and memorable humor.
The story begins in the small town of Blithe Hollow, where Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is ostracized by family members and peers alike because of his unusual ability: he can see the dead and speak with them. Very few believe in Norman’s abilities, except for his mysterious Uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman), who has been watching the boy from afar.
Founded upon the evolved myth of a Puritan condemnation of a witch from centuries long gone, Blithe Hollow lives up to its exasperated tradition, with witchcraft iconography adorning the town; perpetuating a story of how the rightful citizens rose against an evil wench of wicked darkness and sin. The tale evolves that the witch placed a curse on her accusers that doomed her to death.
Prenderghast, knowing he is near death, needs to pass on some secret expertise to Norman about this town tradition. He informs the boy that he must read from a particular book at the grave of the witch, to prevent the dead from rising from their tombs – and it must be done before sundown on the anniversary of her death.
But Norman is unable to complete the request before the sun sets, and the accusers of the witch return from their graves, tormented to roam the earth. Despite having failed to prevent the emergence of the zombies, Norman is the only one who can resolve the haunting experience, and as his home town falls into madness and chaos, he begins to suspect that not is all as it seems.
The conclusion of ParaNorman is especially ethereal, with some genuine frights as well. In many animated adventures that border on the spooooky side of tales, the ones made to include a younger audience are often void of the good old frights associated with horror movies. But in ParaNorman, there are some genuine creepy moments, and a couple of shots and scenes that might find you jump a little in your chair.
The voice acting in the movie is really good, with John Goodman stealing the show with his passing performance as Uncle Prenderghast. Kodi Smit-McPhee, of Let Me In fame, does a spectacular job in the lead role; and Tucker Albrizzi is nothing short of brilliant as pudgy little Neil.
But then to be honest, the star of the show is truly the animation. The stop-motion effects of an excellent standard, and ParaNorman is the first of its kind to use 3D printing in the process. It’s an immersive experience, and the characterizations are superb throughout. There’s a delightful meshing of the stop-motion effects with CGI that is quite literally seamless, and you will find yourself captivated by the experience. The storm clouds of the ancient witch’s rage are phenomenal.
The set design is immaculately crafted for the stop-motion animation – and deliberate in its rickety appearance of the town. While it not only fits in with the animated characters, it also acts as a synonym for the deeper nuances of the plot.
Speaking of which, the writing for ParaNorman is exceptional. On the surface, the storyline is fun, adventurous, creepy, and funny – it’s an enjoyable experience. But at its core and foundation, ParaNorman is an allegory of prejudice towards other people who are different from us, and cleverly explores (and exploits) aspects of fear in human society. Just like the great George Romero’s Dead series, directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler have integrated an essential ethical and social commentary into the story, woven marvelously into the interactions and the values of the main characters.
Symbolism is strong throughout, and ties closely to these underlying moral commentaries as well. This intelligent approach to the script not only makes for a wonderful multigenerational viewing experience, but also will make ParaNorman turn out to be a beloved classic for children who have seen the film – allowing them to return to it for years (and perhaps decades) to come in which they will receive further value from the experience. The approach takes me back to a lot of the classic written works by Roald Dahl, and perhaps even RL Stine.
And on the topic of Stine, ParaNorman is also a massive homage fest as well. The movie is essentially a love letter to classic horror movies stretching as far back as Nosferatu, but also touches greatly on the good old Monster Mash. There are some predictable yet applicable Scooby Doo references dipped in there, as well as some nods to the abovementioned Stine’s Goosebumps series too.
The passion for the horror greats (the ones made for adults and kids) is obvious throughout – so much so that I was surprised to not hear a Misfits song somewhere through the film. And on the topic of music, the closing credits also look like liner notes from Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe, itself a tribute to the classic horror films of years gone by. Hardcore horror fans can also look forward to some more explicit tributes to the likes of Halloween and Friday The 13th as well.
The humor and comedy in ParaNorman is also exceptional. I found myself in fits of laughter in some unexpected moments, and Albrizzi’s character of the (cheekily named) Neil Down is a particular highlight. The light-hearted element of the story, bound to bring chuckles, is an incredibly endearing factor of the movie – and works seamlessly with the creepy horror foundations too.
ParaNorman is far more than just another animated film. This is an immediate masterwork, that young people will find themselves fall into nostalgia over in decades to come. It’s solidarity at its foundations of moral commentary support the story so well, and the characterizations merging the innovative stop motion techniques with superb voice acting make it a wonderful viewing experience. Seriously, you need to check this one out – watch it as soon as you can.