Why is it that it’s always the smart movies with really dark imagery, edgy writing and delectably quirky characters that get pushed aside whilst anything involving reference-spewing animals gets all the advertisements and thus makes more money? I can’t be sure, but that might be the reason why some of you probably haven’t heard of a film called ParaNorman.
From the studio that brought us Coraline, ParaNorman is a macabre and intelligent stop-motion movie that contains many ballsy moves that, in the eyes of Hollywood, probably makes it too smart for “dem stupid little kids”, hence the poor marketing. But, much like Rango, this is a film that dares to acknowledge that fans of animation are sometimes smarter than we give them credit for. And it is awesome!
Residing in the town of Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts, Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a kid often picked on, as he constantly claims to be able to see the dead, including his deceased grandmother (Elaine Stritch). Nobody believes him, of course – not even his parents (Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin) – and he himself thinks very little of it. That is, of course, until he encounters the ghost of local crazed hobo Mr. Prenderghas (John Goodman), who shared his ability to speak with the dead. He explains that this power is given to the one destined to keep the tortured spirit of a powerful witch away from the town. After being unfairly executed 300 years back, she intends to return and bring back the dead in physical form, specifically those who killed her all those years ago, punishing them further.
This means Norman is next in line as the town’s protector, but he fails to perform the necessary ritual before the dead rise from the graves and the witch (whose limited dialogue is delivered by young Jodelle Ferland; I won’t reveal why) begins her vengence. It is up to Norman, with the help of his bratty teenage sister Courntey (Anna Kendrick), his chubby friend Neil Downe (Tucker Albrizzi), Niel’s sexy but ditzy jock borther Mitch (Casey Affleck) and school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) to break the curse and put the zombies back to rest before things go completely to Hell and the townsfolk go completely berserk on the zombies, which creates scenes that make us stop and wonder who the real monsters are – the zombies or townsfolk?
It all culminates into one of the many things I find unique about the film: how it all ends. Without going into too much detail, the protagonist doesn’t really do what he’s destined to do. Instead he outright says “screw the prophecy”, skips the ritual mumbo-jumbo and finds a way to not just keep the witch away, but help her find peace beyond the grave. It makes for a really fantastic climax and the highlight of the film’s visual beauty. What follows is another great twist where we find out something about a character that Hollywood probably would never allow in a kid’s film because, well, they’re just homophobic assholes like that. (That might have spoiled it, but it doesn’t matter)
But ‘kids movie’ is probably not the word for ParaNorman, yet it is a film they deserve to see. It is a mature, smart and deliciously dark movie with ballsy writing, equally ballsy visuals and some very adult jokes, unlike other modern animated features such as Madagascar 3 in which the attempts to insert adult humour only makes the film more stupid and childish. Speaking of comedy, one of my favourite scenes is one in which a townsperson is getting approached by the zombies but he is bent on getting his bag of crisps out of the vending machine before fleeing. The sheer tension in that scene is what makes it hilarious.
The stop-motion is just lovely to look at and it the 3D, thankfully isn’t obnoxiously gmmick-y and as with The Pirates, it was quite neat to see stop-motion in 3D, even if the best 3D was during the hand-drawn end credits sequence. Equally lovely are the sets and character designs. I especially liked the exaggerated physique of Casey Affleck’s character as well as the zombies’ leader, Judge Hopkins, with a voice by Bernard Hill.
Another lovely aspect is the amount of heartfelt references to classic horror pictures, such as Halloween and Firday the 13th. If I were a bigger fan of the zombie genre, I think I would’ve spotted more charming references.
I also enjoyed the editing of certain bits, where the intense scary action would come to an abrupt halt and the screen cut to black, leaving the theater in complete silence for almost 15 seconds, until Norman is back on his legs and ready to see what’s to come. It is scenes like this that prove how powerful silence can be and that, just because it’s a movie for “dumb younglings”, the film doesn’t have to contain constant noise, actions and intensity. We sometimes incorrectly believe that moments like that will bore the kids, when in reality it teaches them to appreciate atmosphere and, hopefully, grow up into an individual who understands why Spirited Away is better anime than, say, Dragon Ball Z.
ParaNorman is definitely one of my favourite films this year. You might say it was a stretch to compare it to Rango, but I’d say they’re on pretty much the same level in terms of how seriously they treat the audience and how much scary imagery they dare to throw out there, in spite of it’s seemingly “kid-friendly” format. This is an ingenious animated adventure with lovable characters, great visuals, wonderful and daring jokes, creative imagery, lovely music, an ending of strong emotional impact, an original story and a nice protagonist to carry us through the twisted madness. It’s just a marvelous movie.
Now, parents, some of you are surely thinking that “Well, since this film isn’t as well-advertised as Ice Age 4, surely I can’t take my kids to see it?”. Well, that’s what Hollywood wants you to think, is my guess. Kids and young adults today are supposed to settle with the stupid, noisy and immature blockbusters, whereas the likes of ParaNorman is restricted for those weird gothic teens or somwthing. So says the media, and thus more parents ignore ParaNorman and ask the cashier for three tickets for Bee Movie 2. Tragic. Absolutely tragic.