“I wish I understood you”
So what happens when a small town is coming upon the anniversary of the death of a supposed witch and you have a young outcast boy who has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts? Pretty much one of the best children films of the year I believe.
In 2009 we all got a glimpse at the gothic children’s tale return with Coraline, here is its obvious continuation. In that film the story was all about a child coming to realization that the family she wants might not be better than the family she already has, here however is a story about a family (and by proxy town) needs to realize that the weird (freaks) of their world aren’t exactly the people that you should accept rather than persecute. It’s the same story that so many other films try to tap into, just a completely lighter take on it (that would be the ‘kid’ genre).
The first thing about this movie that I feel helps it, for the adults in the room especially, is its interesting alliance with horror movies. It takes its time to comment and kid with them as you see Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) watching zombie films and there’s a scene where a woman, helpless of course, is screaming in fear of her imminent death and the moment takes so long that we see the actress run out of breath, stare at the camera wondering “really?”, then start screaming again before we eventually have her killed by the zombie. So we know from that point forward that we know that the film is being handled by storytellers who are fans of their own little world and keeps enjoying that fun throughout its runtime. The nicest way to put it is if Robert Rodriguez made Planet Terror for children and the hero of that story was the child (his son) who was a part of the gang, take a moment to imagine that, animate it, and you now have ParaNorman.
ParaNorman takes its own little jabs at the horror genre throughout as well. It even manages to have its own fresh take on zombies and their objective in the film which is not only a nice twist but makes the movie a lot more fun than any gritty hard R horror action film that’s been released in the last decade I feel.
Otherwise the film doesn’t really try to do anything particularly grand with its characters. The gang (can we call them Scooby Gang? I remember a reference at one point) is made up of relatively stock characters. The outcast protagonist, and his outcast best friend, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who plays the typical big and both of their older siblings, one being a dumbish jock, Mitch (Casey Affleck) and the other being the typical teenage girl, Courtney (Anna Kendrick), as they try to deal with the zombie/witch problem that their town now has.
What I particularly found lovely was the final fifteen to twenty minutes of this film. When it had finally gotten to the climactic moment in the film is when the directors (Chris Butler and Sam Fell) and all of the clay and digital animators pulled out all the stops and managed to pull off some of the most spectacular visuals I’ve seen all year. I’m amazed sometimes at how vivid these, basically, pieces of playdough can end up becoming when films like this work, and when you add in the new digital amalgamation that has now become more popular in these films it’s become unbelievably gorgeous.