Friday, November 30, 2012

DVD Review: ParaNorman

Directed by: Chris Butler & Sam Fell.
Written by: Chris Butler.
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee (Norman Babcock), Tucker Albrizzi (Neil), Anna Kendrick (Courtney Babcock), Casey Affleck (Mitch), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Alvin), Leslie Mann (Sandra Babcock), Jeff Garlin (Perry Babcock), Elaine Stritch (Grandma), Bernard Hill (The Judge), Jodelle Ferland (Aggie), Tempestt Bledsoe (Sheriff Hooper), Alex Borstein (Mrs. Henscher), John Goodman (Mr. Prenderghast), Hannah Noyes (Salma).

Everything about ParaNorman is delightfully off-kilter. This is a traditional stop motion animated film (with a little help from computers) about a very strange little boy named Norman, who cannot only see dead people all around him, but talks to them. For the most part, these dead people are nice to him – and like having someone to talk to. His dead grandmother hangs out on the couch to keep an eye on him. Everyone in town thinks he’s nuts and more than a little creepy. But when the Witch’s Curse threatens this small New England – still proud of it’s with trail days (or at least not ashamed enough to not use it as a tourist attraction – he may be their only hope.

There is something about stop-motion animation that I like. Unlike the more advanced computer driven animation that dominants children’s films nowadays, stop-motion animation isn’t perfect. The characters are lovingly sculpted by hand, and prone to look and feel imperfect. The same is true for how the characters move – not quite like real people. Computer animation can be great – but there is something I love about the handcrafted feel of stop motion – and it’s just about perfect for ParaNorman.

Norman is not your typical protagonist for an animated children’s film – he isn’t really a plucky, misunderstood, underdog. There is something creepy about him. He’s a nice guy, but he is certainly morose and has an understandable fascination with death. His hair stands straight up on, no matter what he tries to do with it, and his ears stick out funny. Even his own family doesn’t understand him – his father wants him to be normal, his mother loves him, but worries about him, and his older sister is a typical self-involved teenage girl. The only (living) person who likes him is Neil, a tubby kid in his class who finds Norman’s gift fascinating. Everyone else – including the school bully Alvin – hates Norman.

The plot of ParaNorman is fairly typical – a witch is going to release a curse on the town, and Norman is the only one who can stop it. He has to assemble his ragtag group – including Neil, Alvin, his older sister and Mitch, a lovable but lunkheaded jock who is Neil’s older brother. Their journey takes them all over town – including the cemetery a number of times. It is an effective plot, but a fairly by the numbers one.

What I admired about ParaNorman were the visuals, which as I mentioned has a lovable homemade quality to them, and the characters, who neatly skirt around cliché for the most part (not really in the case of the older sister or the bully). I’m glad they’re still making animated films like ParaNorman – aimed at slighter older kids, which treat them with respect, and has a distinct visual look all their own. I tire of many animated films with their concentration on bright colors and non-stop action, but ParaNorman is so lovable, I never grew bored.

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