ParaNorman Review

Paranorman is a 2012 stop-motion family film written/directed by Chris Butler and co-directed by Same Fell. Upon its release the film was praised for its creepy atmosphere, mature tone and brilliant animation work. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2013 Oscars.

Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an ostracized little boy with the ability to talk to ghosts. After discovering that there's a mysterious witch's curse that's going to strike the town that evening, Norman sets out on a quest with an unlikely gang of his sister, his equally ostracized best friend, his big brother and the local bully.

Whatever problems I might have with this movie (and trust me we'll get to those) I can't deny that the film is fairly unpredictable. There were quite a few story twists that I didn't see coming and were fairly compelling. It goes to some really dark places (for a kid friendly film anyway) and they work really well for the most part.

However, for being essentially a kid's movie there's a lot of adult humor that I don't think I'd be comfortable with showing my own kid. There's quite a few sex jokes, which surprised me and I just don't know why LAIKA felt the need to put those in.

The character of Norman is pretty bog standard in terms of outsider protagonist. He's introverted, constantly picked on by the school bullies and the rest of the town and is the only one who can save the town due to the thing that made him weird to everybody. He's really more a blank slate for the child audience to project themselves onto than an actual personality, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. I'm never going to remember Norman as a character, but the fact that he's purposefully a blank slate allows for the children to identify with him. The other characters aren't even worth mentioning because they're all just sitcom archetypes. Seriously, take any of the thousands of outdated sitcoms from the 90s, take out the bully, the fat best friend, the jock and the obnoxious older sister, put them in this movie and you've got the entire supporting cast. This pretty much means I'm not gonna remember any of them either.

Major annoyance I have with this film number 2 is that it's tonally inconsistent. It's trying to be a comedy as well as a scary movie for children, but it doesn't always work. There's an especially sappy part at the end of act 2 that completely took me out of the film. Just when I thought we were going to get a dark, exciting climax we get what amounts to a greener looking episode of the Care Bears? Are you kidding me? I thought you had perfected the art of the scary movies for kids with Coraline, LAIKA. What happened between then and now?

My final objection is that for a comedy not a lot of jokes made me laugh. Most of them are just different takes on the "tempting fate" trope, where you dare the universe to do something and then it actually happens. After seeing the same joke happen in different ways too many times it starts to get predictable. The rest of the jokes are pretty much just as boring. Yeah, a zombie rising from the grave butt-first. Hilarious. Would you like to try something with more effort in it and less butt related? Don't get me wrong, it got a few good laughs out of me, but the unfortunate thing was that they were few and far between and that's not good when you're trying to make a comedy. However, I will give them points for trying to slip social commentary into some of the jokes. I'm also taking those points back right away for being low hanging fruit.

Let's start by talking about the stop-motion since that's the main star of the whole movie; it's unbelievable. I'm always shocked at how much movement and expression LAIKA is able to get out of characters who are essentially plastic puppets. Even more impressive than that is how they're able to make really big set pieces with them as well, like a car chase and a climax with floating rocks.

The stop motion works really well with the overall design of the film, which is like a home made haunted house. There are tons of greens and oranges, giving a real Halloween feeling. I suppose I find it especially good here is because I always kind of found stop-motion creepy as a kid, so a stop motion scary movie kind of makes sense to me. My only complaint about it is that some of the character models are sinfully ugly and hard to look at. However, I think that was an intentional stylistic choice, to create this weird would where everybody just looks kind of weird.

Summary: Paranorman is kind of a lesser version of Stranger Things: outsider main characters who solve a mystery to save the world. However, whereas Stranger Things had memorable characters and a fairly intriguing mystery, Paranorman just has the mystery, with any memorable features the characters might've have left on the cutting room floor. Also, don't be fooled: this isn't a kid's movie. I wouldn't show this to anybody over 13. However, even with all it's problems I still enjoyed it and appreciate that LAIKA studios actually had the guts to makes something this risqué. I'm glad I saw it, though I don't think I'll ever see it again.


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