ParaNorman: Stop-Motion Animation B
The second stop-motion animated feature to be made at LAIKA in 3D, after the Oscar-nominated “Caroline,” “ParaNorman” benefits from an original concept, which is not fully developed into a satisfying narrative, but the stop-motion animation is effective.
The fantasy fable is directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler, based on Butler’s scenario.
Slender to a fault, the plot is secondary to the characters and the production values, which are as impressive as those that defined “Caroline,” again unifying two art forms to tell a potentially good story.
Set in the small town of Blithe Hollow, whose locals profit from mining the town’s history as the site, 300 years ago, of a famous witch hunt.
The protagonist, Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee of Let Me In and The Road) is an adolescent, who spends much of his time watching scary movies and studying ghost lore. We soon learn that Norman is blessed with the ability to see and speak with the dead, such as his beloved grandmother (wonderfully voiced by the throaty Elaine Stritch).
You don’t blame him if he prefers their company to that of his flustered father (Jeff Garlin), spacey mother (Leslie Mann), and superficial older sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick).
At middle school, Norman dodges bullying Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), confides in the impressionable Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), and tries to tune out his teacher Mrs. Henscher (Alex Borstein).
Things change when Norman is unexpectedly contacted by his odd uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman), who reveals that an old witch curse is not only real, but is about to come true. Moreover, Norman will have the power to stop it from harming the townspeople.
When a bunch of zombies, led by The Judge (Bernard Hill), suddenly rises from their graves, Norman gets caught in a wild race against time alongside Courtney, Alvin, Neil, and Neil’s older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck), while Sheriff Hooper (Tempestt Bledsoe) chases them all.
With his paranormal activities pushed to their otherworldly limits, Norman designates himself as a hero, summoning up courage and compassion.
The stop-motion animation is good, making the characters and the sets surrounding them feel tangibly real. Moreover, in using this technique, the filmmakers honor an old tradition, established by Ray Harryhausen years ago, replacing (so to speak) his famous monsters with all kinds of zombies.
Co-director Butler claims that he wanted to do a zombie movie for kids, taking a Scooby-Doo mystery to its logical conclusion, rather than having it be debunked.”
In many ways, “ParaNorman” is a personal film for Butler, who served as storyboard supervisor on the company’s “Coraline“: “I have always worked in animation. Norman is the kind of kid who likes to write stories, and I was too – when I was 8 years old, I knew I wanted to tell stories in animation, with the characters and the visuals. I pursued that, and it happened for me.”
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