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Paranorman—movie review

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
August 17, 2012 1:30 AM
4 Comments
  • |

Courtesy of Laika Inc.
ParaNorman is the first of three horror-movie-inspired animated features this year, to be followed by Hotel Transylvania and Frankenweenie. Laika, the studio that gave us Coraline, is responsible for this tale, which assumes that kids will get the “joke” and not be distressed by its macabre content. But in fact, for all of its gags, ParaNorman is unapologetically dark and even sad. You can’t ask viewers of any age to become involved with a young hero like Norman and not care that he’s befriended by the spirit of a dead girl and threatened by a lynch mob.

Norman is an odd little boy who sees dead people. His own family can’t make sense of him, let alone his schoolmates. Only another outcast like a chubby boy named Neil would even consider having him as a friend. Norman lives in a New England town that exploits its historic ties to witchcraft, but when he discovers that an angry spirit is about to invoke a 300-year-old curse and  destroy the community, no one will believe him.

ParaNorman isn’t a bad movie by any means, but I was never completely comfortable with it. I admire its character and production design, which achieve the kind of look that sets stop-motion animation apart from CGI. And it’s encouraging that even in 2012, some filmmakers still favor this hand-crafted, labor-intensive medium. But its storytelling is overly complex, shoehorning tangential ideas and characters into an already challenging narrative.

Courtesy of Laika, Inc.

Sam Fell, who directed The Tale of Despereaux and the underrated Aardman feature Flushed Away, codirected this movie with Chris Butler, who wrote the screenplay. They have good ideas, many of which pay off well, but they didn’t have a blueprint to follow, as Coraline did with Neil Gaiman’s imaginative novel, and it shows.

The filmmakers’ smartest move was casting good actors instead of star personalities to provide their voices. The gifted child actor Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road, Let Me In) tackles the leading role, and is joined by several people who are amusingly cast against type (Anna Kendrick as his airhead sister, Casey Affleck as a surfer dude, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as a bully), not to mention the redoubtable Elaine Stritch as Norman’s dead grandmother.

I always root for animated features and wish I could give this a better review. But if you can persuade your kids to sit through the closing credits, you’ll be rewarded with a time-lapse sequence that shows just how the animation team “built” their multi-jointed model of Norman.


 

ParaNorman

  • Laika, Inc.
    1 of 4

    ParaNorman

    Mr. Prenderghast is voiced by John Goodman.
  • Laika, Inc.
    2 of 4

    ParaNorman

    Perry Babcock, Norman’s father, is voiced by Jeff Garlin.
  • Laika, Inc.
    3 of 4

    ParaNorman

    Neil is voiced by Tucker Albrizzi. Kodi Smit-McPhee voices Norman.
  • Laika, Inc.
    4 of 4

    ParaNorman

    The Babcocks: Elaine Stritch is Grandma, Leslie Mann voices Sandra, Garlin is Perry, Smit-McPhee is Norman, Anna Kendrick voices Courtney.
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4 Comments

  • Sara | August 30, 2012 6:26 PMReply

    My friend and I went to see this and we were both surprised at how good it was. The visuals were well-done and the characters were pretty entertaining. I love the fact that the writers didn't shy away from adding a bit of adult humour and that the twist behind the whole "witch" story was both surprising and at the same time dramatic. In my opinion, I think this is the best animated film of the year, so far and that I've seen.

  • Norm | August 28, 2012 9:12 PMReply

    While LM commetns are "dead on", I found this "macabre" tale enlightening and fulfilling, yet it plays to a diminutive demographic. You really need an understanding of the bizarre and off-kilter slant at people who don't fit the"norm(pun intended).
    Of course "Norman" is "different" and unique and the ability to see dead people is simply the tip of the iceberg. The tale is of redemption and forgiveness, and these are the strong points of the story. The angry mob is just a metaphor for people who lack focus or let their emotions overtake their thinking.Excellent animation, color scheme really capture the heart and direction of the film.
    Kudos to all of them ! Once you accept or pretend to the story moves along and leads you into an interesting group of people who are involved in resolving the situation. The 3-D didn't really add much to the film, but the artwork and thought put into it really do ! So if you need a laid back afternoon "Paranorman" just might help you to enjoy...

  • KJ Today | August 27, 2012 2:50 PMReply

    I loved this movie. I was surprised how good it was. The theater I saw it in was loaded with children who laughed with delight, including the little boy who had been asking repeatedly before, it funny scary not just scary right dad? I don't want to say anymore, because the surprises, and the fantastic visual design that goes with them, are best experienced, not spoiled by reading about them first.

  • Sean | August 17, 2012 4:51 PMReply

    I'm not sure what Mr. Maltin was not comfortable with. The plot was structured around the "witch," who turns out to be a little girl, and a sort of Puritan version of the protagonist, Norman. The showing I went to today included some kids who seemed to understand the film quite well (including my son, who laughed out loud at the macabre humor). The stop-motion work is breathtaking, but it doesn't show off like so much CGI seems to. Many scenes stood out (of course the background made me wish I could visit this delightful miniature town) but many shots I found amazing. A couple of shots from below (little details of legs and hands) showed movement so natural, Laika should be applauded for this work. Nope, it isn't Coraline, but it took me into another world. A wonderful film.

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