Review: ParaNorman / Cert: PG / Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell / Screenplay: Chris Butler / Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin / Release Date: September 14th
Judging by the box office returns of the last few stop-motion animated features, it seems that it’s a dying art that’s being abandoned along with 2D in favour of flashy, smooth CG animation. This is a great shame because with each new stop motion feature that comes along it’s surprising how fluid and how inventive the process is getting. However, based on what we see in ParaNorman, stop-motion can compete alongside anything Pixar can bring us, but also has an earthy, organic feel that is notably absent from CG.
ParaNorman is set in the small town of Blithe Hollow, where town pariah Norman Babcock can see and communicate with dead people and animals and is treated like a freak by his family and classmates. Norman’s estranged uncle, who is also an outcast, informs him that he must take up his mantle to perform an annual ritual that protects the town from an old curse. The uncle snuffs it and Norman fluffs the ritual leading to the release of seven ghouls and a vengeful spirit connected to the town’s dark past. Norman has to team up with people who don’t like him very much, or don’t trust he isn’t deranged, to save the town and prove his worth. Meanwhile the townsfolk are in a lather over the zombie plague that has been unleashed and are looking for someone to blame with Norman being the easiest target.
The animation here is stunning; each character is really well designed and all have a slightly off kilter detail about them. It’s not just the characters though, it’s the way the world works around them, the light that shines through Norman’s ears as the sun goes down or the fact that there is a brilliant car chase which defies normal stop-motion protocols. From the very beginning, with a nice riff on the grindhouse film openings that have become so commonplace, it’s clear that the makers have a major affection for this stuff as well as a love of the craft. The mid-section is madcap laughs and scares along the lines of ‘80s classics The Goonies and The Monster Squad.
Too often films aimed at kids with dark subject matter pull their punches but there is none of that here. The humour on display is frequently hilarious and likely to fly over most kid’s heads. The film isn’t quite as surreal as Laika’s previous film Coraline and never really becomes the stop-motion zombie apocalypse some may have hoped for but ParaNorman is exceptional entertainment that has something for adults, kids and all the Normans as well.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10