The incredibly talented and creative folks at LAIKA (the makers of Coraline) had me the moment I heard Donovan's "Season of the Witch" playing over the teaser trailer. It was a surprisingly mature choice for what was presumably a kids' film. After all, it's animated, so it's got to be just another kiddie flick - right? Wrong.
Thankfully, ParaNorman is a film that moves beyond those presumed trappings. Yes, it’s aimed at a younger audience, but that doesn’t mean only kids will enjoy it. In fact, I think there’s many kids who might be a little freaked out by it. It’s a real horror story at times, not just in how it’s structured or through the use of common horror movie character archetypes (the jock, the cheerleader, the outcast, the portly buddy, the thug, and, of course, the monsters), but because it’s actually pretty scary at times. I hesitate to say this is a horror movie for kids, because that would be limiting who I think would really love this film. I get the impression that not a lot, or not enough, people saw ParaNorman when it was in theaters. Thankfully, home video is here to save the day.
Written and directed by Chris Butler and featuring a cast that includes Anna Kendrick, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jeff Garlin, Leslie Mann, and John Goodman, ParaNorman tells the story of a lonely misfit of a boy called Norman, who lives in a small New England town and just happens to be able to see ghosts and communicate with them. In fact, he’s pretty friendly with many of them. While that might sounds like a cool trick, it’s unsettling to everyone he meets among the living. His family doesn’t understand him and he has more bullies in his life than friends. From there, it’s more ghosts, along with a witch and a hearty helping of zombies that Norman must find the courage to overcome with the help of his new best friend, Neil, even if he doesn’t feel like it. But it’s not all horror homages and ghost stories; ParaNorman is genuinely funny thanks to a smart script and a strong cast that knows their way around a voice over sound booth, even if it was the first time for some.
If you didn’t already figure it out, ParaNorman is not just another digitally animated film. It was done entirely as a stop-motion animation piece, like LAIKA’s previous film, Coraline. But compared to Coraline, technically speaking, ParaNorman is an interstellar leap forward in character movement, detail, and workmanship. Using “Rapid Prototyping” and “Replacement Animation” through the implementation of 3D printing a series of faces for each of the hundreds of thousands of facial expressions, LAIKA has been able to create a unique world with stunning detail and clarity. On the special features found on the DVD/Blu-Ray, viewers are given an extensive behind-the-scenes look at the people and the work done at LAIKA that made ParaNorman possible. For example, the work that went into one of the tiniest details for even the shortest moments can be seen in this video from the discs.
ParaNorman is easily one of my favorite movies of the year (here’s a second opinion). It’s thoroughly entertaining for all ages (okay, maybe not the really little ones). It’s got the comedy you’d expect along with truly stunning supernatural moments that will at least leave a chill down your spine, even if you’re not the type to scare all that easily.
ParaNorman is rated PG and is available now in stores and online on DVD, Blu-Ray, and DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack with digital copy. But we’re giving away 2 copies of the combo packs right now to two lucky Geek readers! Just sign up below and we’ll draw a winner this Friday, November 30th at 12noon PT. This giveaway is open to people in the US and Canada only over 18 years of age.