With Paranorman, I got an early zombie fix before watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead (Season 3’s “Clear”); got a chance to finally watch one of the films nominated for Best Animated Feature this year (though not the winner); and got to watch a movie with my kids. The movie was a lot of fun, and had a lot of great things.
- Great humour for both the child and adult members of the audience.
- An incredible look and feel that can really only be accomplished by the stop motion animation techniques.
- Spot on voice casting.
- A great message for everyone.
- A neat little “zombie” film for kids.
There were a lot of jokes that I liked that my kids didn’t get and a lot that they did. I like the childish humour too. The movie does have a more mature core to it than most, which is not entirely surprising as it comes from the same team that made Coraline. It has quite a bit of “horror” to it, with several scary scenes though no real “gore” or blood ever; I was a little surprised to hear them say “damn” and “hell” a few times in the film, and at the end of the movie one male character mentions having a boyfriend, all of which go to show that this is a movie that kids should watch with their parents (or parents with their kids), hence the PG rating. Norman, is a 12 year old boy (I’m guessing at his age) who can see and speak to the dead. He sees ghosts everywhere, and because of this he is constantly mocked by his classmates. He lives in the small town of Blithe Hollow, a town cursed by a witch centuries ago, and now Norman must take over the secret ritual that protects them each year. Unfortunately things don’t go as planned, and the six jurors and the judge who executed the witch in the past rise from their graves as the curse takes hold of them. Soon the town is engulfed in horror from zombies, a crazed mob of townsfolk and of course an angry witch.
When I was watching the movie I had forgotten that it was made by stop motion animation. On a few early scenes I thought, “wow, they did a strange job animating those eyes”, and then it hit me that it wasn’t CGI. By making this movie the “old way” we got a tremendous amount of realism from the lighting, and the detail that the crew added to everything. I watched the extensive bonus features on the DVD, and learned a lot about how they went about making the puppets for the film. Let’s just say that the uses of 3D printing really are limitless. The features show how much work, and how many hours went into every piece of the design of the film. When it took thousands of hours to make the different heads for each character rather than taking the “simpler” way out of using CGI faces you really gain an appreciation for the care these people take in “playing with their toys” and creating their art. It is simply amazing how far stop motion animation has come since the days of Ray Harryhausen’s animated skeletons, and I truly would love to know what he thinks of the craft today. This might have been an excellent film to see in 3D in the theatres but I had to settle for watching it at home. It was nice to see stop motion animation represented so strongly at the Oscars this year, and not just by Tim Burton; and with the quality it can produce, perhaps one day stop motion won’t be overshadowed by CGI. At a few points in the film it seemed the pacing was a little off, but given how difficult and time and labour intensive these films are, I can see why things were sometimes handled as they were. At the end, the plot may have resolved a little quicker than in a traditionally animated (or live action) film, but still the message remains intact.
The voices were excellent, though not all instantly recognizable; well not recognizable to me. It was nice to see an animated film where they didn’t just copy the voice actor’s face onto the animated character to force the connection on the audience. I think that sometimes having a famous face and voice takes away from my enjoyment of the performance. It stops being a cartoon or animated movie and becomes just another “Bob Smith movie”. I did pick out John Goodman and Christopher Mintz-Plasse voices right away but didn’t learn until later it also starred Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin.
There are two core messages really to this film I think. The first really deals with bullying, which has really become a tragic epidemic in our societies these days. Norman is different. Norman gets picked on. Norman is bullied. How does Norman react? Basically he would prefer it if the living would just leave him alone. Norman’s bullying is mirrored by the townsfolk both today and 300 years ago. They were afraid then and had the witch executed. MINOR SPOILER (Highlight to read) – The witch we find out was just a little girl who could talk to the dead like Norman does. They were wrong, and did the wrong thing, which is really their curse. Norman is able to overcome his own fear and do the right thing, in the face of opposition. Courage is always an asset. The second message is “be true to yourself”. “Don’t let your fears change who you are” is a message Norman is given by his Grandmother’s ghost early on and fortunately he doesn’t. There is a great “switcher0o” in this movie and when it happens it’s a great screen moment for Norman, his new friends and the townspeople.
This was a neat little “zombie” film for kids, and it didn’t play down to them by making everything silly, and there were several scenes that would be scary to the younger audiences. Again, it’s rated PG for a reason. These were some of my personal favourite parts because I had an eight year old cowering a little closer to me a few times. Being a part time dad, and with my kids growing up too quickly, these little moments where Daddy can protect them from anything and everything, slaying the monsters with just a hug are very special to me. I know they won’t last forever, so I savour every one that comes my way.