August 18, 2012

PARANORMAN (Movie Review)


ParaNorman (2012)

Directors: Chris Butler and Sam Fell

4 / 5 zedheads

Norman, the title character of Laika's latest stop-motion feature (opening in theatres this weekend), is a zombie fanatic after my own heart. He has a zombie alarm clock. A zombie lamp. Zombie toys, zombie posters, and even zombie slippers. I never thought I could be jealous of a stop-motion puppet until now.

But life isn't all grindhouse movies and horror comics for horror-loving Norman. Norman has an unfortunate gift: he can see and speak to the dead. This makes him a target for bullying at school, an outcast within his own family, and a pariah in the community of Blithe, Massachusetts, the site of a historic witch execution that the whole town has turned into a tourist cottage industry. But all that changes for Norman on the 300th anniversary of the witch's death when Norman learns that he's the only one who can stop the witch's ancient curse from raising the dead. What follows is an exceedingly original and offbeat horror comedy adventure with as much heart and dark, oddball sensibilities as its abnormal stop-motion hero with the broom-like head of hair.
Norman keeps the light on brain or shine.
I love stop motion animation, and ParaNorman is just the latest in a line of recent films raising the bar in creativity and tactile art in stop-motion animation. Norman's world is a detailed and textured landscape of asymmetrical and crooked lines, and in 3D this world has a depth that makes you feel that you're one inch away from stepping into Norman's nervously-rendered world. Populating this world are Norman and his fellow townsfolk, all wonderfully realized caricatures with exaggerated features based on the character designs of Heidi Smith. Now throw zombies, musical cues referencing grindhouse film scores, witches, and ghosts into the mix, and that's a movie a weird kid at heart like me can't turn down.

The Pilgrims were disappointed to find themselves 300 years too late to see The Avengers on opening night
Speaking of the undead, the zombies of ParaNorman are a motley crew of seven undead puritans who are cursed to a life of walking death for their role in the execution of a witch in the 18th century. Each have their own comically distinct features that make them gruesome but fun to watch, such as a hulking zombie with a bone thin arm and a stretched flap of skin hanging from where his lower jaw should be. Rather than give us yet another tired zombie apocalypse tale with these undead characters, ParaNorman takes an interesting and timely twist  on the material by using its zombie elements to deliver an anti-bullying message that's forgivable in its heavy-handedness because of its earnestness and artistic sensitivity.

Who let the cast of ParaNorman watch 2 Girls 1 cup?
Joining ParaNorman's charming juvenile heroes  -- Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Neil (a show-stealing performance by young Tucker Albrizzi ) -- the supporting cast is rounded out by comedic and dramatic vets like Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Overall, the voice work is fantastic, but sometimes the script falls into dead spots where neither the comedy nor the action is really clicking. That aside, in a Hollywood landscape dominated by remakes where there's even less interesting material for children unless it's based on a video game or toy franchise, ParaNorman has the bravery to tackle concepts like bullying, death, horror, prejudice, mob mentality, and duty while engaging both children and adults without pandering to either -- even allowing the humour to verge into very adult territory at times.

And your little dog too.....
Full of references for horror fans, ParaNorman is a surprisingly thrilling and touching supernatural adventure. For all us weird kids, outcasts, geeks, nerds, dweebs, and fans of the dark, ParaNorman is a late summer treat in the spirit of Halloween likely to prove a kid's cult classic anytime of the year.

Now, where can I get that zombie alarm clock?