ParaNorman was first introduced to me by a former co-worker whose family’s business (Peak Solutions LLC) just so happened to be directly involved in the production of this 3D stop-motion animated adventure film. How you say? Well they supplied/sold the many 3D rendering color printers the studio/production team used to create thousands of models that painstakingly captured every movement and conveyed every emotion in the character’s faces. Plus on top of that, the nightmarish subject matter and trailer for this one looked hella cool too. But we’ve all been there before. Cool trailers and crafty concepts don’t always necessarily mean its going to be good. So while we are gathered here today, let’s take a closer look at this one under my proverbial microscope.
ParaNorman is produced by Coraline creators Laika. And like most animated features nowadays, all the buzz about it is usually generated by who’s the voice cast and by golly do we have an all-star lineup here, boys and girls. It includes the likes of Casey Affleck, Kodi-Smit McPhee, Anna Kendrick, John Goodman, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann and many more. Factually speaking of course, it’s also the first stop-motion movie to use a 3D color printer to create character faces. I don’t know how you feel about it, but in my opinion, that’s pretty bada$$ especially since I have seen first hand how these printers work and the quality of the rendered product they produce.
The plot of ParaNorman is quite simple and the story is actually endearing in the end. The story takes place in a small New England town that comes under siege by the undead. Think of the Occupy Wall Street movement, but with zombies. But low and behold, there’s a boy! His name is Norman Babcock (I love that last name…LOL — Kodi Smit-McPhee – Let Me In). What’s so special about him besides that last name? Well…he has the uncanny ability to communicate with the dead (I want that!), and maybe…just maybe…the ability to save his town from the destruction of a century old witch’s curse. But to do so he must face the worst of the worst that range from ghosts to zombies and everything else in between. You gotta love the adversity here. At least you can’t argue that the stakes aren’t high.
Many critics are calling ParaNorman simply fantastic. However, like my experience with Lakia’s Coraline, many times I found myself bored to tears. Now, that’s not to say the movie was bad, quite the contrary, but unlike the Pixar films that keep me enthusiastically and emotionally engaged throughout, this one caters more to the little people…and there’s nothing wrong with that, albeit I believe the visuals and subject matter can be a little intense and nightmarish for some of the young viewing audience. Although I will say this, horror fans will appreciate and get a kick out of the many nods to the classic films.
I would go as far as to say that each major character represents a certain stereotype and writer Chris Butler plays off those strengths and weaknesses flawlessly like every good writer should in the development of characters. After all, character development is a fine craft, and I think Butler hit it out of the park here in that respect. And if I had to go out on a limb here, I would also say the central theme is don’t judge people…not even the dead ones! They just might prove you “dead” wrong.
And no way Jose can I close out this review without mentioning the snazzy 3D printers they used here. My good friend, Marcus Dobeck, has some stunning examples of the marvels these printers reproduce and spit out and I must say that as I saw these stop-animated character faces come to life on the big screen, I was instantly reminded of the exact products Marcus proudly displays on his desk. They were “dead” on perfect. And equally impressive were all the set pieces and background. The amount of detail here is impeccable. Unfortunately, the theater I saw this in had some audio issues so I’m not at liberty to accurately comment on the audio or the film’s score. However, from what I heard, the surround sound seemed to make great use of the spacial dimensions it has to work with and I absolutely adored the zombies attacking from behind me in the speakers. Bravo! And it must have been the lackluster audio, but I didn’t bust up laughing at the humor the way most reviewers are describing it. I do acknowledge the humor’s existence, but it just felt a bit stale to me at times unless I wasn’t able to hear it.
And so because I didn’t relish and get as much out of ParaNorman as I did say with How to Train Your Dragon or Toy Story 3 or even Aaron Neuwirth’s review here, I’m forced to go with a lower score, but if you have kids that have any interest in this movie whatsoever, then by all means…take them! You can even save yourself money by skipping the inflated 3D prices. While the 3D popped at times and there’s no denying the depth, it really wasn’t really that spectacular and did little to enhance my overall view experience/satisfaction. The damn low audio ruined that for me. LOL. Now the scary and electrifying Act 3 conclusion on the other hand, well that’s a whole other story. It made what simply could have been just an ordinary, coming-of-age kid/zombie movie into something so much deeper and honestly, that’s what swayed me from a 2.5 up to a score of 3. FWIW.