Stop-Motion! ParaNorman Time

Okay, so ParaNorman was made by the same people who made the Academy-Award-winning Coraline (which was also super freaky), so I knew it was going to be good. I didn’t see it in 3D because I didn’t feel it warranted 3D. A stop-motion film is amazing as it is. It doesn’t need any of that cinematic bullshit because, if it’s a good movie, there’s nothing to cover up (like a lacking plot or terrible acting). 

Let me just tell you, I made a 10-minute stop-motion film in middle school for a project, and it took me days to perfect and complete. Five seconds of a stop-motion film can take an hour to set up and film since it requires so much detail. I’m just saying, show these stop-motion films some respect—even if they are for kids—because they take impeccable dedication to make.

Here’s how Focus Features describes the plot: “In ParaNorman, a small town comes under siege by zombies. Who can it call? Only misunderstood local boy Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is able to speak with the dead. In addition to the zombies, he’ll have to take on ghosts, witches, and, worst of all, grown-ups, to save his town from a centuries-old curse. But this young ghoul whisperer may find his paranormal activities pushed to their otherworldly limits.”

Obviously, with a movie targeted at kids, you know there’s going to be a good story with equally good messages. ParaNorman does not fall short here. As was mentioned above in the plot, Norman is able to talk to ghosts, which makes him an outcast in his town, at his school, and even to his own family. As an audience member, you can’t help but like him because he’s different, misunderstood, and constantly bullied by both kids and adults; but his character isn’t just defined by his oddities—he’s kind, polite, and constantly tries to help others.

Basically, Norman is a great example for kids (as well as adults who need to reassess themselves). And the movie isn’t just focused entirely on zombies, witches, and ghosts either. It has central themes of bravery, bullying, doing what’s right, and listening to others—all of which are not part of a berating agenda crammed into your ears, à la Disney.

Another interesting bit of the movie? You’d expect the zombies, witches, and ghosts to be the villains, but they’re not. It’s the town’s grown-ups who play villain here. Kids movies typically follow a system with writing grown-up characters. Either they’re dumb, Homer Simpson-like philanderers, or they’re just stressed out adults who don’t listen to their kids when their kids need them to listen. ParaNorman takes the latter route. These grown-up “villains” are just people acting out of fear, who lose control of their logic, sensitivity, and ability to listen to a child who needs them to hear. Such honesty captured in a kids movie, right? But, of course, Norman helps them to see this. Because, duh, protagonist.

I already mentioned how impressive stop-motion is, but seriously, I don’t think I can tell you enough. ParaNorman‘s stop-motion is fantastic. Even though I purposely tried to note the animation quality while I was watching the movie, there were times where it was so good that I actually forgot to pay attention to it.

All of the characters have so much facial expression when they’re talking, just like real actors. I watched a special on how they made this movie, and I believe they had somewhere between 12-28 dolls per character that they could adjust depending on the conversation in the scene (For example: scared Norman or upset Norman). If you like paying attention to minor details in movies, I suggest you take notice to how every character has one eye that is just slightly larger than the other. No, it’s not a flub. It’s a signature of the character designers, which you can tell because each and every single character in the movie had that same trait…even the zombies.

So many people think movies like this aren’t going to be entertaining for adults. Well, I say FALSE. This movie had plenty (if not more) jokes for adults than most animated movies I’ve seen. In fact, one of my favorites was a scene where Norman’s cell phone plays the Halloween theme song when he gets a text that says “Come to the window” or something like that. And when he looks outside, someone is standing outside in a creepy hockey mask, who is actually just Norman’s friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) wanting to play hockey. Kids don’t get that joke! Only we do. As I said, there are plenty of jokes for adults in there, but I won’t spoil them all in case you go to see the movie.

Speaking of adult jokes…there is one really hilarious, adult-themed joke (the kids totally won’t get) that happens toward the end of the movie between Neil’s older jock brother, Mitch (Casey Affleck), and Norman’s petty cheerleader sister, Courtney (Anna Kendrick). I really don’t want to spoil it for those of you planning to see this movie because it quite literally took our entire audience about two seconds to get it before we all laughed our asses off.

I don’t think this really counts as criticism—it’s more like a cautionary mention for parents—but the movie did get kind of creepy at times. What surprised me was that it wasn’t necessarily the zombies that were the scary ones—it was the witch who was the scariest. With older kids, you’ll be fine (unless they’re big chickens); but with younger kids, you might find some cuddlers in your bed later. I can’t put an exact age on it because I know some kids are able to handle creepy things and some aren’t; but if I had to guesstimate (God, I hate that word. Why did I use it?), I’d say no younger than six. Then again, my three-year-old cousin watched it with barely any problem, so what do I know?

Overall, I honestly think ParaNorman is one of the best animated movies of this year (at least so far); and I say that even after I’ve seen Pixar’s Brave, so that should tell you how serious I am. I think it’s going to be quite the predicament this year at the Oscars when it comes to the best animated feature category, what with Brave and ParaNorman going up against each other. Maybe it’s just the kid in me, but I absolutely loved this movie. It was a great mix of kid and adult comedy, as well as horror. The quirky characters, meaningful plot, and stop-motion animation combined to make one really awesome movie. As I mentioned, parents may need to be cautious when taking their younger children (or their easily scared older kids) to see this movie, as it does get creepy in some parts. But what can you expect with a movie that has ghosts, zombies, and witches? Actually, now that I think about that, I’m kind of surprised they didn’t release this movie in October…

ParaNorman: A+

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