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ParaNorman tells a story about a young boy named Norman who has the unusual ability to see and talk to the dead, an ability which has led him to be ostracized by the other members of his community, including his own family. The New England town in which he lives is famous for a historic witch execution, along with the legend of a curse that the witch put upon those who sentenced her to death. It turns out that the legend of the curse is true, and that Norman, with his ability to talk to the dead, is the only one who can prevent the curse from raising the dead. Unfortunately, Norman is unable to act fast enough and the Witch's curse begins to wreak havoc on the town.
ParaNorman is a film with many strengths. Stop motion animation is always a beautiful and fascinating process, and with new technological advances the filmmakers have been able to bring it to a level of detail and expression that are simply astounding. While the scope of the story may be smaller than something like Coraline or Nightmare Before Christmas, the scale of the stop motion sets for this town are truly incredible. The film absolutely immerses you in this world that feels like a living, breathing, place. As beautiful as the animation in Brave was, ParaNorman is easily the most visually impressive film I have seen this year.
As beautiful as the film is, it never falls into the trap of so many other animated films by simply being visual spectacle with no narrative soul. The story of the film is fun, intelligent, and heartfelt, and is supported by a great cast of characters. The odd kid who is misunderstood is a common trope in kids' movies, but what makes Norman stand out is that he's never mopey about it. He is ostracized, bullied, and rejected, but he's come to a kind of acceptance about the whole thing. He's certainly not happy about it, but at this point he's not trying to fit in, he's really just trying to keep his head down and get through the daily grind. This is part of what makes his relationship with the other characters in the film work so well. For instance Neil genuinely accepts Norman for who he is and it's obvious that this throws Norman for a loop and he doesn't really know how to interact with someone who "gets him." This is never spoken, but it plays out naturally through the performances of the characters.
As the narrative progresses it takes some really interesting turns, and at times is genuinely surprising and emotional. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that a large part of the narrative revolves around assumptions and misunderstanding, and it brilliantly uses the audience's assumptions and expectations about the genre and its conventions against them.
It's also worth mentioning that this is one of the rare films which decidedly benefits from the addition of 3D. There's some fun play with perspective, and being able to see the dimension that exists in these sets adds a lot to the experience.
I genuinely loved ParaNorman and it's easily one of my favorite films this year. It's not a movie for everyone, but if any of the trailers gave you even a glimmer of interest I would definitely recommend checking this one out. LAIKA is certainly beginning to make a name for themselves in the animation scene and I'm really looking forward to whatever their next project will be. I think I still prefer Coraline which definitely benefited from the combination of Neil Gaiman's fantastic story and Henry Selick's experienced hand, but ParaNorman is a truly fantastic film and it's definitely worth a look.
Norman (voice of Kodi Smith-McPhee) is an outcast. Know why? He talks to dead people. And indeed, we see them as well, chatting with our hero along his walk to school. Oh, and his grandmother (voice of Elaine Stritch) talks to him all the time while sitting on the couch in the living room. No one understands poor Norman, who's as resignedly freaked out as Haley Joel Osment in the Sixth Sense, so he has no one to talk to, not his parents (Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann), not his sister (Anna Kendrick), and not the school bully (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) for sure.
It's only when Norman has an episode during the production of a school play (not coincidentally, about an old legend surrounding the town's dark past) that he gains a friend - another outcast, the portly Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), who teaches Norman that it's best not to let people bother you, to not let them get under your skin. Had the story ended there, we may have had a nice, tidy after-school special. Oh, but it does not! From out of almost nowhere, Norman's black-sheep uncle, Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman), a heavily bearded, slightly loony chap, informs Norman that he - Norman! - must take the mantle of He Who Holds Off the Witch's Curse. Mr. P. has been doing it for all these years, but he thinks he's about to go. He warns Norman that it's all up to him and he must read from the book and then he dies. That was an intentional run-on sentence, for your pleasure.
Thereby our plot is set in motion! Norman must extricate said book from the dead uncle and then read it by the witch's grave in order to break the curse that no one really believes is real. They don't believe it on account of Mr. Dead Uncle has been reading from the book for his entire life, and someone before him, and so on. But now Dead Uncle is, you know, demised, and just before the witch is to rise from the ashes and wreak havoc! Oh, I should note that the curse goes like this - a little girl was suspected of witchcraft by the town elders and sentenced to death. So you can see why she might want to haunt those elders and the town itself for all eternity.
There are people raised from the dead, and the imagery is quite striking; bones, stringy hair, rent clothing, and the ability to remove an appendage and reattach it. Are these - uh - zombies - out to lay waste to the town? Or are they victims of their own device? It's up to Norman, his brain, and his innate ability to talk to dead people to somehow save the day. Despite being grounded, of course.
ParaNorman works on many levels. Adults will love the stylish, almost Gothic atmosphere; older teens will love the menace of both the zombies and the townspeople, not to mention the witch herself. There are, for an animated film, plenty of scares and dark themes - slightly offset by the themes of loneliness, friendship, heroism, and getting adults to just listen to you. For once! Ahem. Anyway, there's a sort of beauty in ParaNorman, as horror and light comedy are somehow blended to form a rich animated film.
The film in itself is split into two sections. The first shows Norman, an out-of-place kid in a small New England town who has the ability to talk to ghosts. Since he has no real friends, he doesn't mind the undead. He's picked on at school for being different, and we see that whenever another person, like the geek Neil, wants to be friends with him, he tries to push them away. Norman's older sister, and Neil's older brother are the stereotypical cheerleader and football jock, and they torment Norman as well. And then we have the school bully; every film seems to have them these days.
The second part of the film sees Norman become an unlikely hero after a witch's curse raises the dead back to life and all chaos breaks loose. There are some creepy moments, but the characters are always cracking off one-liners according to the situation, so it kept the film funny as well as adrenaline pumping. The only thing I didn't like about the story was the climax. It's not that I didn't like it, it's just that it felt sort of phoned in. Overall, the voice acting is great, the animation is superb as always, and the 3D remarkably works well. I was expecting a great movie, and I got it with this film. It may be a little too scary for kids under the age of 10, but everyone else should have a blast. I hope this film does well, and I can't wait to see what Focus Feature's next big animated project will be.
Final Verdict: 9/10
ParaNorman is oddly different as an animated family film. Unlike the others, this one has a dark and mature context, but by sentimental means. Although the story is about spirits and zombies, the true core of this film is the emotion and the message that it is trying to show us. There's a couple of moments that are quite affecting. Usually is when Norman is being alone in his gloomy life. In other parts, the film is ought to be funny. The comedy sometimes feel way apart from the drama, but they still work anyway.
The stop-motion animation indeed looks marvelous. These little figures really brought themselves to life as their voice actors provide their personalities. The campiest part, the zombies, are quite impressive to look at. It's undeniably solid. The music score sure knows which part is suppose to be gloomy, campy, or just ordinary. It's a great effect to the scenes and you'll love it. The rest of the movie is all ridiculous and fun little set pieces that are entertaining enough to enjoy.
ParaNorman is surprisingly strong. The depth of the story made this movie so special. It's still filled with comedy and lightheartedness. In the end, it turns out to be endearing. It's a rare kind of family film that is brave to show what it wanted to show. It might be hard for some to understand its sentiment, but if there's anything else why anyone would like this film then it's because of its majestic animation. ParaNorman is simply great and it's easy enough to recommend.
There are several themes in this film that were well developed and ultimately resolved to my satisfaction. The animation is incredible, and I loved the creative camera shots that the director(s) chose in many scenes: much more advanced than the usual animated film.
I took 2 children to see this movie, a 6-year old girl and a (near) 4 boy. The kids loved the comedic zombie scenes in particular and were laughing out loud for much of it. They were frightened in other parts but in a functional thematic way, not to the point of nightmares. However I did note that some of the deeper themes went right over the kids' heads, and while they weren't too bothered by this fact, I advise that children over 8 might enjoy the film more fully.
The climax of the film is beautifully animated, and very poignant. On the whole a great film. I would state only that the humour surrounding the zombies was hilarious for adults and children alike, and I would have included more of it. Certainly this film is worth the admission. I saw it in 3D, it wasn't mind-blowing 3D but it certainly gave the film more texture.
ParaNorman follows a misunderstood boy who is able to speak to the dead. When the town is over thrown by zombies, a witches curse, and an angry mob it's up to him to push his abilities to the limit to save them all. This film not only delivers something new and different with an almost played out genre, it manages to stand out and entertain on numerous levels. Featuring an all-star voice cast of Casey Affleck, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tempestt Bledsoe, John Goodman, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse who step into their roles and bring these fun characters to creepy life. While this seems to be an animated kid's film, this was clearly made with all ages in mind. There are moments that some would deem not so kid friendly, but still manages to maintain its place among an almost all ages film. The animation is awesome with some strange character and set design that only adds to the originality and fun of this film. This film is formatted like an actual zombie film, but then takes some twists and turns to take it someplace new. The story is dark and fun all at once and will easily keep both adults and kids entertained. There are some classic monster movie moments that adults will appreciate as well as some subject matter that is a bit glossed over, but clearly takes a momentary step out of the family film.
This is easily not only one of the best stop-motion films to come along in some time; it's one of the best animated films. ParaNorman delivers in every way filled with comedy, horror, and action all wrapped up in a strange twisted visual tale that you will not soon forget.