PARANORMAN Review

I am always hesitant when it comes to stop motion animation. No matter the intrigue that might come along with it, there is something about the style that makes me feel no matter how hard I try I won't be able to get past it. This was true earlier this year with Aardman's Pirates! Band of Misfits yet I still found myself enjoying that film to a much bigger degree than I ever expected. This might have eased the resilience that would have usually come along with a film like Paranorman. In fact, I was very much looking forward to this film as it seemed, in the very least, to be one of those hand crafted movies that would employ its technique to emphasize the creepy tone of its story. One of those films where I would regain the sense of something along the lines of Hocus Pocus or Monster House where it is a movie I can always pull out around Halloween every year and never be disappointed. Suffice to say Paranorman more than meets the expectations I was holding for it and honestly delivers one of the funniest and more entertaining experiences I've had at the movies in a while (and I just saw The Expendables 2 which was riotously funny). The film has a sense about it where you know the makers understood every aspect of what they were trying to accomplish. They know their characters better than anyone else so when those characters encounter such strange happenings such as what goes on in this small little town they know how they would react and how they would deal with it while always keeping the focus on our main protagonist. And while if you've read the synopsis you may think this all sounds very Sixth Sense-like trust me when I say it turns that little plot device into not just a gift but a curse that justifies its surprisingly touching storyline.

Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) tries to hide from
the zombies he let loose.
All around we find that every aspect of the film nearly exceeds expectations. Whether it be in the actors voice work that helps develop the characters even further or the visual prowess that is inherit in every frame. I was consistently impressed with how the film rolled out and that I was never bored but instead engaged by how brilliant the pacing. When I was immediately intrigued by the story early on I worried it would end up going down a road that was less than satisfactory. In this regard, I was lucky enough to be proven wrong. When the film opens (with a great homage to the grindhouse/slasher flicks of the 70's and 80's by the way) we are not only immediately given a taste of the genuine affection the film has for scary movies, but we also see the delicacy and intelligence of the filmmaking in the way it is explained to us that Norman sees dead people and that is just something everyone around him needs to live with. We see that it is something not completely accepted about Norman, but it is known and it defines his life in this moment. Here is where the well rounded, fully realized character comes into play as it is clear that Norman sees this as something he'd rather not be burdened with, but he also likes to be alone and this is a fine enough excuse to be that way. He doesn't really care to have friends in the casual sense of the word. He would rather just be left to his own devices without having to deal with the humiliation he finds around every corner at school. This gift he has for seeing the dead is naturally not a random coincidence though and as Norman and his ever persistent companion Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) find out there is much more to the history of their town then the school play they put every year likes to include.

Courtney (Anna Kendrick), Norman, Alvin
(Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) and
Mitch (Casey Affleck) are on a scary adventure.
While Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In, The Road) creates a sense of maturity in a young Norman while still instilling the unjaded, child like wonderment that belongs to someone his age we are also treated to several other performances that make this a cast of characters one you don't mind going on an adventure with. I especially enjoyed the bits of subtle humor that were injected throughout. They weren't your typical bits of animated humor either, but significant in the way that they came perfectly integrated into the DNA of who the characters are. The school bully is named Alvin and he gets one of the few recognizable voices here from McLovin himself Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Alvin is an idiot and finds it rewarding to hide his shortcomings by pointing out Norman's. Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann provide a few great bits as the parents presiding over all of this while Anna Kendrick and Casey Affleck are the older siblings to Norman and Neil who somehow get roped into the thick of the plot. Even John Goodman shows up early on as one of Norman's uncles who seems to share a certain trait that he needs to pass on to our hero. In the end, it really does come down to how the film took the archetypes of this rather tired premise and breathes life into it through the course they take in executing it and how they populate the world and realize that vision altogether. The piece completely compliments itself in every aspect. I thoroughly enjoyed it, my only drawback being that it doesn't ever truly find a ground on which to stand. It is stuck somewhere between genres and demographics, but I've never been one to let the lines restrict the need to create what one really wants to see their final product become so props to directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell.

Norman and his gang come to realize that all is not what
it appears to be in their small town.
That being said, there was the distinct concern as I watched the film about who exactly this was aimed at or made for. My mind kept coming back to the film lovers who specifically found their interests satisfied in old school horror flicks. Given that is a small demographic to create a film for I had to think there was more to it than that.  There were plenty of children in the theater with their parents and while there was a good amount of laughter coming from each their was also that concerned laughter at some of the more subversive humor from the parents that weren't totally sure if they were appropriate in laughing at what their child just missed, or if other parents in the theater might judge them for it. It straddles the description of "family entertainment" pretty strongly as there were certainly a few scenes and images that conjured up real fear in the children sitting around us. There were also a few jokes and words that weren't exactly subtle to the children sitting next to me either. I can't say that I really worried about this dilemma after seeing the film, I was more surprised at how damn charming the film was. I wanted to see it again and recall the jokes and was also wishing i already had the blu-ray so I could watch the special features. It is that kind of movie, it wraps you up in itself and takes you on an adventurous, scary, and outright fun trip that you hate to see end and only hope you can catch up with those folks again sometime in the future whether it be at home or in a sequel. Paranorman may not be for everyone, but that is what makes it so appealing to those who it is intended for.