Friday, September 28, 2012

ParaNorman (2012) Review

ParaNorman poster
Director: Sam Fell, Chris Butler
Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee (Owen from Let Me In), Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Genre: Children's, Horror

The first thing you'll notice about ParaNorman is how visually pleasing it is. It's stop-motion animation done superbly, some of the best there is as a matter of fact, which shouldn't be of much surprise being that it was produced by Laika, the same guys behind Coraline.

Not only is the animation great but so are the sets and props. The cemetery is wonderfully spooky, the town during the day feels vibrant and alive, the town at night feels like you're watching a drive-in horror flick. It's all very well done and immersing. 

The first starts out with a 70s-esque title card and has Norman sitting watching an old horror flick on the TV. When his mother asks him what he's watching, he replies "Sex and violence." This is a kids movie, and kids will most likely love it, but it can also be highly enjoyed by adults and seasoned horror fans. There is plenty of adult humor in here. From jokes about police to statements on modern society.

The plot, though not particularly original, is suitable for this kids movie, and it manages to engage you and not treat you or your kids like babies. It respects your intelligence, well at least for a kids movie. We follow Norman, a kid who can see ghosts and because of it is not only made fun of and outcasted at school, but also has to deal with the struggle for his parent's acceptance. A situation I think many people, myself included, can relate to.

Since Norman is the only one with these supernatural abilities it is up to him to stop the witch's curse. There's zombies too, but I wouldn't really classify this as a "zombie movie". The zombies don't actually attack anyone and though they look like traditional zombies, there's a bit more to them then that as you'll find out. I found it very funny when the zombies entered the town and looked at the human and they themselves became scared.    The film made it appear as if it were the humans who were more zombie than the zombies were. Clever satire that is.

Then we have the witch, who has cursed the town, who is actually a little girl who was sentenced to death in olden times for being a witch.

Norman in ParaNorman being surrounded by zombies.

Keep in mind this is a children's film, but there are some genuinely scary, or at the very least, creepy parts. The great sets and visuals do a great job creating a creepy theme and atmosphere, that can send chills by itself. Like the part when the fat kid was standing outside Norman's window was quite spooky. (There were some very young kids in the theater who seemed to be pretty terrified). The zombies or the witch never feel particularly threatening, and by the end we find out that they're really not. Quite honestly the only true danger was the humans all along.

The film ends with a moral. And whether you agree with the moral or not (it's a very agreeable moral though) I feel it's better for a film to have a moral rather than not. A film that has something to say, no matter how typical or simple, automatically has more value. Too many films just play it completely safe nowadays and choose to not have to make the viewer use their brains.

The cast of ParaNorman

ParaNorman is a true homage to the genre, unlike Hotel Transylvania which was merely a cash-in. The theme of the film, and atmosphere also, really make you feel like you're watching a horror film from the 80s. At least that's how I felt. Even the characters are stereotyped into the same personalities as in many horror films. This is both a pro and a con. The loner kid who has supernatural abilities, the fat loner kid who befriends him, the snot-nosed bully, the slutty older sister who falls for any jock who's ripped. They're all present here. And though they're all charming to watch, you can't help but notice their typical-ness and feel like you've seen them all before. So like I said it's really a pro and a con, because it helps set that horror film feel.

It is also said that this is the first children's movie to have an openly homosexual character, which has cause quite a bit of controversy. I personally think this is a great thing and about time.

The soundtrack was great. It felt like a mixture of rock and minimalist techno, which really worked out great. We also get to hear children singing "Season of the Witch" out of tune, and the Halloween theme even plays at one part. The end credit song is "Little Ghost" by the White Stripes, which plays over some beautiful artwork from the film. Yes, even the end credits were very enjoyable and I sat through them till completion.

A great film for kids and adults and even hardcore horror fans. There are some scares, some laughs, and it is very much worth the ride. 

4/5 stars
+Visually awesome with great animation and theme
+Plenty of nods to the horror genre
+Not a "dumbed down" film
-Characters could have been a bit better

Purchase ParaNorman on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD

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