Movie Review: ParaNorman

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I was forced to put off writing this review while I got caught up on some other projects, but the impression that ParaNorman made has not diminished in the few days since I watched it. ParaNorman is about a boy who sees dead people – only he’s way cooler than that Haley Joel Osment kid – and it was made by LAIKA Studios who also made Coraline. And like Coraline before it, ParaNorman is a stop-motion animated feature with engaging characters and creepy supernatural overtones.

LAIKA seems to have a thing for stories about childhood self-discovery and the resultant conflict between parents and kids. In this case, Norman finds himself at odds with his dad, who doesn’t want to acknowledge his son’s ghost-whispering abilities and doesn’t understand Norman’s fascination with bad horror movies. In other words, a kid after my own heart.

ParaNorman posterNorman is also  a frequent target of the school bully, and finds he has way more friends among the dead than the living.  It’s not until a centuries-old curse threatens his small New England town, that the people around him begin to appreciate his unique talents.

Although not the visual feast that is Nightmare Before Christmas, ParaNorman is a stunning achievement in stop-motion. Part of it is the rich color palette and detail put into the sets and props, but a lot of it has to do with the incredible range of the characters. The level of emotion conveyed by facial expressions is really amazing. This was achieved with the latest in 3D sculpting and printing technology.

Rather than having to painstakingly sculpt and paint multiple faces for each character by hand, artists could sculpt on the computer and create hundreds of small variations – for different emotions, and mouth shapes – and then print them out on a 3D printer.

While the visuals are top-notch, the story telling isn’t perfect. Aside from Norman, most of the “living” characters are disappointingly stereotypical – particularly his older teenage sister – and the twist at the end is visible a mile away. But the last 20 minutes are so intense, you’re likely to overlook the minor shortcomings.

ParaNormanA word of caution though – just like Coraline, ParaNorman has some parts that are probably way too intense for little kids, and I’m not sure that’s evident in most of the trailers. Not to give too much away, (and stop now if you want to avoid a potential spoiler) but the story includes a beloved grandparent who is recently deceased (and whose ghost Norman talks to every day), and the town curse involves the murder of a young girl by a group of adults.  Also, the scene toward the end when Norman resolves the curse had even me squirming a little.

Personally, I really liked this movie and I can’t wait to go see it again.  My love of all things stop-motion undoubtedly makes me biased, but I’m giving ParaNorman the highest rating I’ve given anything so far at Into-The-Dark. Be sure to check out my Ultimate ParaNorman Preview, which has tons of pics, videos, and behind-the-scenes content.

Rating: 4.5/5 ★★★★½ 

P.S. If anybody is wondering what to get me for Christmas, this book “The Art and Making of Paranorman” would be pretty awesome.

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About Dave_P

Dave_P studied fine arts and film history and is a graphic and web designer, and a diehard movie fan. David has been involved with a variety film festivals including the Cinephile Film Festival, the PRIDE Film festival, and the Manhattan Short Film festival, and is currently the director of the Dark Carnival Film Fest in Bloomington, Indiana. (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com)

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