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ParaNorman

What She said:

She

Sometimes it’s a little difficult to watch a seasonal movie out of its appropriate season—for example, viewing The Christmas Story any day other than Christmas Eve/Day.  For me, that was the reason for the slight sense of dread I felt in watching Paranorman.  I felt like this stop-action animation flick was clearly a Halloween movie, despite the fact it was released in theaters over the summer.  I set aside my prejudices and decided to rent this comedy/thriller/horror flick, despite the fact it was actually Christmas-week.  Turns out, it was well worth the mental adjustment.

In the tradition of Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas, Paranorman is stop-action animation.  Boy, has this technique come a long way since some of its earlier film uses.  Paranorman looks stunning.  Also notable about the animation is that this film represents the first to use 3D printers to create the faces of its characters.  If you haven’t heard of 3D printers before, they’re basically devices that create plastic copies of computer images in 3D.  So, you can have an ear on your computer screen, press print, and have a plastic or resin ear print out that you can pick up and use somewhere.  There are exciting scientific applications for this technology, but, as you can see, it’s already having an impact on Hollywood as well. 

Anyway, by utilizing this technique, Paranorman is a visual masterpiece.  It’s actually hard to distinguish as stop-motion animation, because it’s very smooth and not as jumpy as previous incarnations.  The color in this film is also very rich, despite the fact that much of it takes place as night.  They do a lot with the blues, greens, and purples. 

The storyline of the film follows an 11 year old outcast, Norman, who lives in a small New England town.  The vibe of the town feels very much like Salem, and it has a rich history surrounding an accused child witch who was put to death.  Norman has an extra special gift—he can talk to dead people.  However, no one really believes him about his talent, and he is simply regarded as “the weird kid.”  Even his own parents are frustrated by him telling stories.  Norman doesn’t realize it, but his ability is actually very important.  You see, each year the ghost of the witch of Blithe Hollow returns to try to torment the town.  Only the ghost-speaker can keep her at bay for another 12 months.  Norman’s uncle, also considered a total loon, has been doing the job for many years, but upon his death it’s now Norman’s turn to take on the responsibility.  He’s thrown into the position of defeating the witch, while keeping the zombies that she’s resurrected at bay, and preventing the town from having a complete meltdown.  Norman teams up with his uber-popular older sister, Courtney, his only friend, Neil, and Neil’s dumb jock older brother, Mitch.  Norman has a lot of pressure on his shoulders, but this clever kid turns out to be the right person for the job.

The plot of the movie unfolds very nicely.  It’s smooth, well-written, and engaging.  There’s enough action in this film to keep kids interested, but also enough humor to allow the movie to be light.  It’s not particularly scary, but for younger kids some of the chills might be intense.  I would say that kids under 10 might not handle the movie well, depending on their level of maturity and how easily they get frightened.  Overall, Paranorman is a great family movie with visual splendor that will impress.  

Thumbs up.

What he said:

He

Remember that famous line from The Sixth Sense? Well it turns out Haley Joel Osment isn’t the only one who can talk to ghosts; Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) also has the ability to speak with ghosts. Norman is actually a lot like Cole (Osment’s character). He is a normal kid whose abilities prevent him from living a normal life. Most people don’t believe in ghosts, so when they see this kid walking down the street talking to what appears to be nobody, they just assume he’s crazy given this family history.

Norman’s Uncle (voiced by John Goodman) also shares this ability, but has been labeled the town kook. He is a hermit that everyone avoids, even his own family. His parents are worried that he will suffer the same fate if he doesn’t stop walking around town talking to ghosts as if they’re regular people everyone can see and hear.

Being ostracized actually turns out to be a blessing in disguise as he ends up meeting and befriending a classmate named Neil. Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) is a chubby and eccentric young fella who is fascinated by the rumors regarding Norman’s abilities. He also knows what it’s like to be teased and bullied, so he identifies with Norman. This kid was a riot. I don’t know if he got the best lines or the actors delivery was just spot on – I suspect a little bit of both – but man was he funny. He nailed that weird, quirky, but in a loveable way sidekick type.

The two of them – along with town bully Alvin – are in the school play. The play revolves around the local legend of a witch who was put to death 300 years ago. Everything starts to really get crazy when Norman gets a premonition during the play. He’s not sure exactly what it means, but it seems to point to something about the legend of the witch. He then begins to have several more encounters with a ghost that instructs him how to prevent the witch from returning.

While on his way, he knocks over Alvin (voiced by none other than Christopher “Mc-Lovin” Mintz-Plasse) with his bike. Alvin doesn’t take kindly to this and follows Norman. Norman was actually performing a ritual to prevent the impending apocalypse. The next thing they know, zombies are rising from the grave and begin chasing them. The two of them eventually meet up with Neil, his brother (voiced by Casey Affleck), and Norman’s sister (voiced by Anna Kendrick).  Not only to they have to evade these zombies, but they still have to figure out how to stop the witch from returning; they don’t quite have all the pieces to the puzzle yet.

ParaNorman was a very good little movie. It’s quite amusing, has some great visuals (an excellent blend of stop-motion and CGI animation), and has a surprisingly heart-warming storyline. I didn’t see that last one coming. The story unfolds in a very smooth way that makes the somewhat heavy ending feel quite natural. Most of the movie is pretty light, but the end of the movie is more dramatic, however the build up makes the transition seamless.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie was written for your reading pleasure on December 31, 2012.