Movie Review: ParaNorman
Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Reviewed: 1 May 2013
With its wryly funny take on the Salem witches and the life of a small town, "ParaNorman" delights from the very first scene in a way that never talks down to its audience and instead delivers a beautiful, frightening film about the very real power of death in a young boy's life. Gorgeously rendered in stop-motion animation (think "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Wallace and Gromit"), the town of Blithe Hollow must stop a curse from a long-dead witch which brings the undead to life. It's only hope? A young outcast named Norman who can see the dead and talks to them on his way to school. Norman's opening scenes with his grandmother are quite touching and set the foundation for the rest of the film. Norman is no superhero with ridiculous powers. He is a kid with fears and doubts, struggling to make friends, struggling to make sense of death.
Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his friend Neil (Tucker Abrizzi) earn most of the laughs, but Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann are fun as his parents, along with Elaine Stritch as Grandma. The voice work here is done well and integrated into the characters so well that I had to look up who voiced who at the end. Scene after scene in "ParaNorman" is lovingly crafted with the directors playing with proportion and size in humorous and creative ways. I think the stop-motion technique lends itself well to stories rich in humor, abuzz with strange looking characters interacting with each other.
Take Norman's hair, for example. It resembles Bart Simpson's crossed with the Bride of Frankenstein with its spiky verticality. Or, take the overhead tilt down shot of Norman walking into school, showing us how the crowd parts and isolates him as the weird kid. Besides being smart, sad, and funny, "ParaNorman" has heart firmly rooted in an endearing anti-bullying message. This film is not just about the outcast kids turning the tables on their tormentors. And a last minute revelation is a first for me in this genre of film, and it felt totally appropriate and paid off earlier scenes.
I recommend this film to all ages, though I think it may be a bit intense for some younger viewers. I showed the first 45 minutes to my high school juniors, and they were laughing intensely at it. Funny is funny, and a well-crafted movie is always going to find its audience eventually. Catch up with "ParaNorman." You won't be disappointed.