Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review: ParaNorman

ParaNorman is yet another 2012 film that was a victim of it’s own marketing campaign (this list includes The Cabin in the Woods which managed to make it through strong word of mouth and Seeking A Friend for the End of the World, which did not. I’d count John Carter too, but that would imply it HAD a marketing campaign). The ads had it painted as a lowbrow kids comedy with some horror elements, probably not technically bad, but certainly not my speed. The actual result is a well put together horror film for kids, that is not only uniquely intelligent but an incredibly in depth exploration of what it means to be an outcast.

The story is devoted to Norman, a horror movie obsessed elementary school student with the (apparently) unique ability to see and talk to ghosts. This, kind of naturally, makes him an outcast. His crazy uncle (who also possesses his apparently not-so unique ability) arrives to tell him he has to head down to the town cemetery and read a book, to keep an ancient witch’s curse (which has become a tourist attraction, in what amounts to a brutal, but unfortunately accurate, takedown of Salem) from destroying the town. He fails in his mission (because otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie) and a group of 7 zombies, the original people cursed by the witch rises from the grave. And…that’s all I’m gonna tell you. Watch the movie, you’ll see.

The animation is the first place where the movie excels, courtesy of Laika Animation, who previously made Coraline (another high point for stop-motion animation) and the new visual technique to allow for an incredible amount of facial expressions. Combined with the incredible and stylized character models and some of the best sets I’ve seen in a stop motion movie, the animation is some of the best I’ve seen in years.

But animation can only carry you so far. Brave had gorgeous animation and it was mediocre due to story issues. What causes ParaNorman to be so much better than any animated film I’ve seen in years is its amazing story and characters. Each of the characters, even small ones, feel like complete and well rounded humans. The story, while occasionally genuinely scary (especially for a kids movie) is also an incredibly engaging mystery, with multiple twists and turns throughout the story. When the first major twist is finally revealed, I was actually shocked by what a dark twist it was, and it leads into what has to be one of the darkest third acts in a kids movie I’ve ever seen.

I really have nothing but praise for this movie, which makes it kind of hard to write about in detail, because so much of what I want to praise could be considered spoilers. There’s a running subplot (with a huge and quite dark payoff) about how insular and xenophobic small town America can be, which I love. There are a series of running references to classic horror films, but none of them ever feel like a Dreamworks style ‘reference for reference’ sake. And what I find impressive is how upfront it is about its occasionally dark subject matter. A lot of movies, especially kids movies, would try to skate over it or mitigate it with a joke, but when ParaNorman goes dark, it goes all the way.

I really cannot recommend this movie enough. It’s easily the best animated film made since the 2009 triple punch of Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Secret of Kells (all of which are really awesome and deserve to be watched too). If you haven’t seen this one, you really should. It’s the best animated film of 2012 and probably one of the better overall films of it too. Don’t miss it.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’s pretty sure he laughed louder at the reveal about the jock than anything else.

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