Sunday, September 16, 2012

"ParaNorman", A New Height for Stop Motion Animation

Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell
Written by Chris Butler
Produced by Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner
Distributor: Focus Features
Studio: Laika

Stop-motion animated films tend to go for material that is far beyond what most of our mainstream animation studios like to tackle, and its truly a gain for that medium. Stop-motion animation's inherent charm is what makes it suitable for like ParaNorman's wonderfully dark and often surreal story. It's no surprise that it worked for Henry Selick and Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and Aardman's Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Stop-motion adds a whole new level of uniqueness to these kinds of stories, and ParaNorman was destined to be another film that benefited from this. After all, the film is from Laika, the stop-motion masterminds behind Henry Selick's Coraline.

ParaNorman takes a seemingly simple tale of a misunderstood boy who can talk to the dead and blows it up into this really elaborate adventure that is not short on the laughs and wit. Like Coraline and other spooky-themed stop-motion films, it does have some potentially frightening sequences, ones that have already garnered controversy amongst parents (typical of these kinds of animated films). What surprised me more than anything was that they actually went for some great themes. Aside from issues like bullying and accepting others for who they are, we also get some very meaningful insight on death itself. You know a family film is succeeding when it tackles this material, rather than relying on a joke-riddled script.

The twist that occurs in the last fifteen minutes was what really got me, it was so unexpectedly emotional and it added a new level of depth to the already solid story. How it ties to what Norman goes through in his life tops it off, it's brilliance. While its first act takes its time and has some familiar tropes (the bullies being punk-like, the older sister being the shallow "OMG" girl), it really starts moving once the zombies rise. The animators and writers have fun with this, giving the zombies distinct personalities, mixing gruesome designs and a comic coating. The balance between the darker underbelly and the sense of fun is also never off, though from time to time early on, we do get some toilet humor and immature "pseudo-adult" jokes. In terms of the comedy, ParaNorman succeeds. The references to classic horror films and B-movies was also a nice plus.

ParaNorman's greatest strengths lie in the heart of the story, and the themes of fear, death and tolerance of others' quirks. It's all handled well without ever being heavy-handed or preachy, but at the same time the story soars to emotional heights while also keeping the audience entertained with a healthy amount of humor. When you do what Pixar does, or classic Disney, you get an animated winner. Nothing's better than a strong emotional core to your story and fantastic characters. No matter what style you go for, it'll always be important. ParaNorman does that, and then goes all out with its visual zeal. It's truly the best of both worlds, and an unforgettable experience on top of that.

- Visually beautiful and captivating, but told with honesty while journeying to a dark side that's lacking in many non-Pixar family films. A decidedly quirky and experimental tour de force, one that shouldn't be missed.

Trailer Recap
I saw this in 2D, the theater had a few people in it, and all of them seemed to genuinely enjoy it. It even got some applause at the end. Lots of laughs throughout too, and the theater went dead silent on two particular moments.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Yep, that same damn trailer. Will they ever give us a new one? - Opens December 21st

Life of Pi - Now this looks very interesting. I like how this trailer only gave flashes of the plot and what happens, as opposed to exposition. - Opens November 21st

Frankenweenie - As I've said before, I'm looking forward to it but I'm in no hurry. - Opens October 5th

Despicable Me 2 - If only my theater swapped this with the new Wreck-It Ralph trailer, then I would've been a happy camper. Every time I see this trailer, everyone cracks up at the bit at the end. - Opens July 3rd, 2013

1 comment:

  1. Great review, as always on this blog. I loved the film and am looking forward to seeing it on home video. Pixar definitely has some competition for the Oscars this year.

    Also, have you gotten around to seeing Nemo 3D and Partysaurus Rex? I'd love to hear your thoughts on both the short and the film's 3D conversion.