Anything but ordinary
In all honesty, I dragged my feet a little bit on the way to the theater to see Paranorman. Something about the movie just struck me as so, well, normal. I went in expecting to see a little kiddie movie set in a universe where curse words do not exist and the power of friendship and family could overcome any obstacle. Ergo, I expected boring, childish cliches.
It took me by surprise. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still (mostly) a kid’s movie – but even I, at the weathered age of eighteen, thoroughly enjoyed it. There are a lot of tricks and surprises thrown in aimed for audience members over the age of twelve to enjoy. The movie’s central theme – acceptance of everyone for who they are, even if they’re different – is a lesson anyone regardless of age should adhere to, and it’s all wrapped up in the film’s commendable stop motion claymation design, which never strays too far from interesting and occasionally reaches absolutely stunning.
As for the story, gosh darn it I enjoyed that too. Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is the town fool because of his tendency to shoot the brief with thin air. As it turns out, Norman possesses the ability to see and speak with ghosts, but no one, least of all his own father and sister (Jeff Garlin and Anna Kendrick) and the unhygienic school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), believes him. When Norman’s similarly soul-seeing uncle (John Goodman) drops dead for (literally) no reason, it’s up to Norman to fulfill his duties and keep the ancient witch’s curse from destroying the town, while outrunning a pack of society-confused zombies. But how can tiny Norman handle such a big task by himself, when no one else is willing to help him?
The stop-motion animation was done by Laika Entertainment, the same studio that created Coraline, a similarly hauntingly beautiful film. I’ve seen a lot of special effects this summer (probably too many special effects) – but I think this movie’s fusion of claymation and CGI is my favorite. The film’s climactic scene, which is already satisfying because of the twists the story took to get there, is worth paying the extra couple bucks to view in 3D. A few scenes beforehand could have used sprucing up – at some points the only thing popping out of the screen was the back of a character’s head or some other mundane object. But the wait pays off when the movie reaches its mouth-dropping climax, where Norman finds himself face to face against an (again, literally) electrifying mixture of stop motion and CGI. Stunning.
Like I said earlier, the film is not the little kid spectacle I was anticipating. The movie doesn’t shy away from vulgar language (“You mean, like, the F word?” Norman wonders after his recently departed uncle’s ghost tells him to ‘swear he’ll go through with everything’). And just when audiences think the movie is over, there’s one last surprisingly grown up bombshell to be dropped on us. The theater I was in definitely didn’t see it coming.
It’s no secret this was just an okay-ish summer at the movies, but this movie was probably the biggest surprise for me. It refreshingly underplayed its self-seriousness, and brought one of the most likable cast of characters, which also included ‘that typical chubby kid with a lot of allergies and no friends’ Neil Downe (Tucker Albrizzi) and his muscular older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck). I am thoroughly charmed. Not so brave about that Best Animated Pic nom now, eh, Pixar?
However, just like Coraline, I fear this movie is headed down the road of the underrated. Coraline failed to make a huge splash in pop culture, and general lack of buzz and just-decent opening night sales may condemn Paranorman to a similar fate. On the other hand, a near identical looking film called ‘Frankenweenie’ will be released later this year, and will most likely topple Paranorman in sales because it comes pre-packaged with Tim Burton’s big ticket name. I boldly predict Frankenweenie will outperform this movie at the box office, but won’t generate reviews quite as positive. If only people were more open to the different.