ParaNorman is a transcendently powerful animation that perfectly mixes horror movie self-awareness and dark fairy-tale magic.
Norman’s (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) your average kid that sees dead people. He’s a loner that finds comfort in movies, particularly those containing the walking dead. When the town weirdo Mr Prendeghast (John Goodman) tasks Norman with stopping the town from a Witch’s centuries old curse he must avoid meddling grown-ups, ghostly apparitions and zombies.
The stark, pulsating visuals utterly blew me away. The sheer lines, the colours that you’d normally associate with the glow bubbling out of a cauldron Stop motion animation has the luxury of clarity when you’re composing layered and heavily populated physical spaces because the miniature nature of the players and the environment allows you maintain heightened focus in the entire frame. Directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell weave every second of ParaNorman into a vibrant tapestry that will have you wanting to freeze frame shot after shot and hang it on your wall.
The voice casting is so attuned to the essence of who the characters are that the exceptional actors involved retreat – so there’s a whisker of familiarity, without that overbearing distracting ‘that’s so and so’. The highlight is definitely Smit-McPhee’s Norman who is informed by the tender fragility of his vocal performance. The remaining mixed ensemble of kids simultaneously affirms and subverts their physical constructions. Tucker Albrizzi’s lumpy and blunt Neil is a loveable dullard that is remarkably accepting of Norman’s weirdness. Casey Affleck’s sculpted jock and motor head Mitch is surprisingly caring and constantly deflects the constant advances from Anna Kendrick’s Courtney [Norman’s sister]. And although Christopher Mintze-Plasse’s Alvin is the bully of the group – the sweetheart/nerd hero ‘McLovin’ peaks through his inflection in the moments that the ghouls become too much. The only performance and character that reverted to ‘kids film’ two dimensional conventions was Norman’s continuously yelling father Perry voiced by Jeff Garlin.
It’s fascinating that over the last two years horror fans turned filmmakers have created texts that simultaneously added to and deconstructed the films/genre they love (Tucker and Dale vs Evil, Scream 4 [Craven & Williamson back together], The Cabin in the Woods and Frankenweenie). Butler and Fell’s horror fandom is so delicately infused throughout ParaNorman and as horror fans they create a few tremendous homages to classic flicks. Whether it’s the actress in the bad horror film Norman’s watching on T.V running out of breath waiting for her lumbering attacker to reach her or Norman’s ring tone being the theme to Halloween the loving nods are there. One in particular reference to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre had this reviewer laughing out loud. Butler’s script make the supernatural bent the ‘norm’ and the characterisations of the ‘outsider’ are genuinely heartfelt. Despite the quirky, supernatural content there’s a profound moral, underpinning the story. While that you normally come off as ‘preachy’ or feel archaic – the comedic timing, surprise, and universal themes allow you to be totally receptive to it.
ParaNorman is style, substance, [delicious] brains and a huge [cold dead] heart.
and a half
Directed by: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Written by: Chris Butler
Starring the vocal talents of: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, John Goodman, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann and Christopher Mintz-Plasse