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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Movie Review: PARANORMAN


"Can't you be like other kids your age?"
-- Perry Babcock

ParaNorman is a 2012 animated film directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell that serves as the latest piece of stop-motion animation to hit the silver screen. The film tells the story of a young boy named Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) who has the ability to see and speak to the dead. As one can imagine, no one in his small town - including his family - truly believes his seemingly outrageous stories, and as a result, Norman has become a bit of an outcast among his peers. One day, however, his equally-outcast uncle Mr. Prenderghast (voiced by John Goodman) tells Norman that a 300-year-old witch's curse is about to destroy the town, and the boy is the only one who can prevent it from happening. Initially pushing the idea aside, a string of eerie visions leads Norman to believe his uncle. With the (reluctant) help of his only friend Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi), his sister Courtney (voiced by Anna Kendrick), Neil's brother Mitch (voiced by Casey Affleck) and a local bully named Alvin (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Norman sets out to save the town from the evil about to come upon it.

As many of my readers will know, I've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of August 17, 2012 for the two major films being released. Some of you may have seen my quick review of The Expendables 2 on the affiliated Facebook page yesterday, and now I've had the chance to see ParaNorman, for which I was more excited. Always a fan of stop-motion animation, the concepts behind this particular film seemed incredibly attractive, and I've almost been counting down the days until I could see just what directors Butler and Fell could bring forth.

I have to start by talking about the stop-motion animation. Being such a big fan of the medium, I have to say that I was utterly blown away by just what ParaNorman had to offer. I've seen plenty of great pieces of work from past stop-motion films, but ParaNorman seems to take this one to a new level. I can't quite put my finger on exactly what makes this film stand apart, but I do think that there are little nuances here and there that just make this world seem just a bit more real. There were times that I was left open-mouthed by the beauty of the film, and for that alone, it needs to be applauded.

Luckily for the audience, we're also getting a stellar screenplay that brings a off-beat type of charm to the film. From the very outset, we learn of Norman's spectacular ability see and communicate with those who have passed on. At the same time, we also learn of the struggle Norman must face as a result of his gift, and it immediately gave me the opportunity to relate to the character. From there, we jump right into the action, learning of the witch's curse and Norman's ability to stop it. We meet a number of wonderfully fleshed-out characters who help or hinder Norman along the way. At the same time, we're listening to a perfectly-scripted set of dialogue for each individual character, each of whom brings a little bit more to the overall scheme. And at the end of the day, the film manages to bring itself full circle, touching on the concepts of bullying and evil in the real world. It's a truly well-done piece of work by director Butler, who also penned the script.

While we're on the subject of the characters, I have to say that the vocal cast did a splendid job in bringing these characters to life. Smit-McPhee is great in the central role, and it's easy to fall in love with the character from the very start. I thought Albrizzi and Kendrick offered two of the better roles in the film, and I think Mintz-Plasse deserves a lot of credit as well. Also be on the listen for Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin as Norman's parents; each of them does quite well with their respective roles.

Where ParaNorman truly succeeds is in its tone and its blending of genre. As an animated film, a film-goer will most likely assume it's going to be a comedy that's branded for children. That's not entirely the case with this particular film. Like past stop-motion ventures like 2005's Corpse Bride and 2009's Coraline, there's a bit of darkness revolving around ParaNorman. While there is quite a bit of comedy - both in dialogue and in slapstick form - throughout the film, we also have a bit of horror and suspense for the avid horror fans. There were a few moments where the tenseness of the film truly felt palpable, and I don't think I've ever had that feeling in an animated film before. I have to give a lot of credit to the entire cast and crew for bringing forth a film that pushes the boundaries of the animation genre. Parents should just beware that this one might not be for the very little ones.

At the end of the day, ParaNorman is a great film that deserves to be mentioned as one of the better stop-motion ventures in cinematic history. As I read some other critical reviews of the film, I stumbled across this particular snippet from Washington Post writer Sean O'Connell, and I thought I'd share:
[ParaNorman is] A colorfully macabre stop-motion animation comedy that embraces the sociopolitical allegories of George A. Romero's zombie pictures and reworks them into a feature-length episode of "Scooby-Doo."
Needless to say, I couldn't agree more, and that's what makes this film so darn enjoyable.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
Status: Should See

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