ParaNorman (2012)

ParaNorman (2012) movie poster

directors Sam Fell, Chris Butler
viewed: 08/18/2012 at AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA

From the Portland, OR-based stop-motion animation studio Laika (the team behind the fantastic Coraline (2009), emerges the studio’s second film, ParaNorman, a children’s movie about a boy who “sees dead people”.  For a kid who gets along with ghosts better than the living, Norman has a real penchant for zombie films.  His whole room is covered with posters and toys of the living dead.  He’s an outsider in town, even a “freak” in his own home.  So it’s a little odd that when the zombies really do come to life, he’s frightened by them.

The animation is lush and the design is gorgeously detailed.  Every character, from speaking part to walk-on, is lovingly designed, with unique qualities and inherent oddities all of their own.  The entire world of ParaNorman is overtly wonky, and while the story is set, I assume, somewhere in New England, the town looks an awful lot like Portland.

It’s a town like Salem, MA, whose history and commercial tourist appeal is tied to its dubiousness in persecuting “witches” to death some 300 years prior.  When the witch’s curse is not stifled, the dead bodies of those who had killed her are brought back to life to wreak revenge on themselves and everybody else and only Norman’s ability to communicate (and relate) gives the town any hope.

As beautiful as the animation is, the story and execution are far more traditional and straight-forward than the magical levels achieved in Henry Selick’s Coraline.  It’s hard not to compare the two films, coming from the same studio as they do.  ParaNorman also cultivates a somewhat “goth”-ic appeal, perhaps to a more extreme degree.   But it’s always a strike against a film when it comes to the moralizing, especially when the moral is spelled out in specific, somewhat pedantic language.

Clara was super-keen on this film.  She loved Coraline.  Both she and Felix enjoyed the film quite a bit.  I would say though that the film is pretty scary compared to a lot of “kiddie” fare.  Clara told me she was scared at least once during the film, though nonplussed afterward.

I wasn’t overly surprised by the film.  I loved the look of it from the trailers, but the whole thing had an obviousness about it that suggested that it wouldn’t elevate to the sublime charms of Coraline (admittedly one of my favorite films).  I had read somewhere that supposedly Selick was going back to work with Laika on another Neil Gaiman book, The Graveyard Book, and I’ve had real hopes for that.  Laika is also supposed to have optioned the Portland-based children’s book, Wildwood, which I haven’t read but have heard good things about.

The kids liked the film even more from having seen some of the models from the film at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum a few weeks ago.  I know they would love to see more about how the film was made.  I do enjoy the fact that they like stop-motion animation so much, and I do very much enjoy watching the films with them.

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