By Gary Murray
Starring the voice talents of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick and Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Written by Chris Butler
Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell
Running time 93 min
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
August is usually a dumping ground for cinema. The big guns have fired their best shots and all that is left is the dregs before the first volleys toward Oscar gold. Much like January, the higher-ups in Hollywood seem to have resigned that all the best films are already in the box office column, totaled and ready for the IRS. Every once in a while Hollywood will slip a great film into the mix–a film that no one expects much from. Last year it was Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This year it is Paranorman.
This dark, macabre tale of New England terror is about little Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) a fairly normal kid who has a special talent. Much like in The Sixth Sense, he can see dead people. Not just his grandmother whom he shares television watching duties with, but with every other spirit in Blithe Hollow.
Everyone in the town thinks that Norman is more than a little weird. He is bullied and ignored at school. One kid Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) tries to befriend him but it seems all for naught.
Norman has an uncle (John Goodman) who lives in town, an uncle that he doesn’t know. This uncle confronts Norman and lets him know that he is the only hope to save the town from a witches’ curse. He must use his gift to stop the witch.
Norman is the only person who realizes the grave danger of the situation. No one, not even his parents (Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin), believe in ghosts. They just think their son is peculiar.
Norman proceeds with the ceremony but something goes wrong and he unleashes band of marauding zombies. These are the ancient members of the town council who started the witch trial and are responsible for the curse.
The rest of Paranorman is of our hero finding out that the assumptions that the adults have made for decades is all wrong and that he has the ability to set things right in the past and the present, from now to eternity.
Along the way, we get the oldest cliché from 1970’s horror, teens in a van. That includes Norman’s older sister (Anna Kendrick) who seems much more interested in landing the local jock and talking on the phone to saving the town. They are the majority of the comic relief within this film and it is milked to a striking degree. In trying to save themselves, they become a comedy of errors.
As a kid, I did this style of animation but not to this technical of a degree. The ability to turn these non-human puppets into fully articulated creatures with personality is the exploit of genuine artists. This is easily one of the most impressive feats of animation, going old school in a computer generated world. The studio is Laika Entertainment, the company that delivered Coraline in 2009. This film has much the same look but to richer level.
The richness of the image that co-directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell deliver is outstanding. These guys are masters of this style of stop-motion animation and they have improved by leaps and bounds in the last few years and would make grand masters Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen proud.
With both Frankenweenie and Hotel Transylvania being released in the next few months, Paranorman has a real chance to get lost in the shuffle. That would be a terrible shame. This is one of the most cleaver films of 2012 and something that should not be missed.