Words by Benjamin Pinsent
Not to be confused with the TV show ‘Paranormal’ or the rapidly tiring ‘Paranormal Activity’ series, ‘ParaNorman’ came from left field for those who were not expecting it, and even those who were expecting it found a surprise as they walked into the cinema.
From the same studio that made ‘Coraline’ (2009), Laika is similar to Pixar studios in the way that they are always creating decent movies and pushing the technological boundaries of their medium. Pixar was the CGI animation studio to get fur to look right in ‘Monsters inc’, then they perfected water in ‘Finding Nemo’.
Laika has advanced the look of stop motion puppets with the largest amount of facial expressions, giving the characters a full range of emotion. It is a definite step up technically from their previous work and Tim Burtons attempts; not only because of the expression, but the look of the puppets. There is a realness to the texture, despite the amazingly weird style of the sets and the puppets, the audience can almost believe that they are really people on the screen.
Well, enough about the technological splendour of the film, what lies beneath the polished exterior of this child friendly zom-com?
It is a surprisingly sweet tale of an outsider quite content with his way of life having all the people a boy could need to talk to, it doesn’t really matter to him that they are dead. It is when his crazy uncle (John Goodman) who can also see ghosts, tasks him with protecting the town that he lives in from a centuries old witches curse that Norman’s life takes a turn for the worst.
Being attacked by zombies Norman must team up with Neil (the school’s resident fat kid and another outsider) the school bully, his bratty teen sister and Neil’s older brother to save the day.
Conventional is not a word to describe this film at all. Norman is already comfortable with his powers and his lot in life. The humour almost broaches the adult at times and the twists will leave you re-evaluating myths about witches and vengeful ghosts. It is a kids movie, but it is one that doesn’t talk down to kids.
This could be considered ironic because the trailers that the film was played with seemed to be very conventional kids fair: with Burton’s ‘Frankenweenie’ which is almost a step back interms of technical achievement and ‘Nativity 2’ a film that sees children as types of people with a lesser intelligence. (Although there was a collective squee moment when a trailer for ‘The Hobbit’ came on.)
It is a film with a heart but it is not too sentimental, like Burton’s own attempts to recreate his first stop motion success. The characters feel real, sometimes they act cartoonish, but they are animated bits of plastic and metal. The Characters are brought to life by the talented voice cast, from Goodman bring his Coen Crazy as Mr Prenderghast to Casey Affleck as Mitch, a character who has one of the best end of movie reveals in all of cinema.
It is a film that I cannot recommend enough; it has great animation, a great sense of humour and of self. It should be no surprise when ‘ParaNorman’ receives a nomination for best animated film this year. Please, please go and see it, you don’t want to miss out.