JULY 25, 2012
My dad (who incidentally passed away 8 years ago today) was 35 when I was born, but I was also his third child. So I’m starting to feel like I’m “running out of time” when it comes to having kids, as I’m 32 and still on my, er, zero-th kid. Thus, when I see a terrific family movie like Paranorman, I get kind of bummed out – will technology advance to the point where my theoretical kid finds it too “old” by the time he exists for me to show it to him? I’m already terrified he’ll never be able to appreciate things like Legos or whatever.
See, the movie is very much a kids/family film, but it’s also a total joy for horror fans, and thus is exactly the sort of movie I’d want to show my children, assuming they wanted to be like their old man and live a life filled with Fangoria magazines and Dr. Loomis action figures. While it’s “scary” and dips into more mature subject matter at times (the back-story is essentially that of the Salem Witch Trials), I think I’d be OK showing it to a 5 or 6 year old, and an older kid should be able to enjoy it even if he’s already been introduced to Craven and Romero.
Because, as you learn early on, Norman is pretty awesome, and by that I mean he’s like us. He watches silly B- movies whenever he can, he’s got horror posters all over the wall… even his toothbrush has a zombie on it. And, as you might expect, his family and schoolmates think he’s weird and pick on him, but of course when something bad happens he’s the only one that can stop the town from being destroyed. So it’s a terrific moral for kids who might think that they’re different in some way, as it’s that very quality that allows Norman to be the hero. And he’s still a horror nerd at the end, instead of pulling a Grease and ending the movie on “change your ways to fit in!”
It’s also chock full of little references that will mean nothing and won’t distract those who aren’t in a position to understand them. The most overt is the Halloween ringtone gag that you’ve seen in the trailer (along with a Jason mask), but there are some other clever bits as well, like a gas station named Gunnar’s. And I’m not sure if you ever see the entire sign in the movie (it’s partially obscured by someone’s head) but the tavern is named “Bar Gento”, which is just plain awesome. I’m sure there were others in the sets and backgrounds, but I try not to spend my first time seeing a movie looking for Easter eggs.
Though, if I DID, this would certainly be the one to do it with, as I was consistently amazed by the sets and amount of characters that populate them. Save for a few CGI elements here and there, the entire movie was done with stop-motion animation, utilizing dozens of sets and characters that stand nine inches tall and have hundreds of heads for different facial expressions. It’s by far the most advanced of its type I’ve ever seen (topping even the same team’s Coraline), and I honestly can’t wait for the Blu-ray as I assume it will have behind the scenes pieces about the creation of this world. I’ve tried stop-motion myself a few times and have always loved it, but even by primitive, one character/one set (i.e. my bedroom floor) works took hours and hours – I can’t imagine how much manpower it takes to pull off, say, a crowd scene where they’re all waving torches and mucking about.
The 3D is also spectacular; not only can you engulf yourself in these sets, but the shots have a lot of depth to them (as opposed to comin at ya type stuff), fully bringing the world to life. And the slight dimming that occurs from the glasses (it SHOULD be slight, at least – you have to count on the theater knowing what they’re doing) actually adds to the horror feel, as you get a touch more of that cold New England look that the film has, but without losing any of its rich color.
My only minor issue was that the script didn’t quite gel as much as I’d like, particularly with regards to the ghosts. Early on, we see that Norman can see the spirits of pretty much everyone (and everything – a ghost bird!) that had died in the town, but this element never really factors into the rest of the movie – the ghosts are nowhere to be seen once the zombies rise from their graves and begin wreaking havoc. Instead, Norman teams up with some other teens (his pal, his sister, the town bully), and he keeps insisting that he’s the only one who can stop the curse, but the movie no longer shows us how he’s any different than them with regards to how to stop it. The film’s villain is also strangely underutilized – the first time we really see her is when Norman is basically starting the final battle. Not sure if all of this is a way to keep the film from potentially being too scary for kids, but it resulted in some abruptness to the storytelling, which should be the main goal.
But it’s a small complaint, as the movie never stopped entertaining me, and it’s much funnier than I was expecting – the dude trying to hide his weapon during the town meeting killed me, and Norman’s parents (Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann) cracked me up almost every time they were on screen. Jon Brion’s score is also quite wonderful, and the rest of the cast is pretty great; Anna Kendrick in particular was terrific in her first feature voice role, and I was happy to see McLovin’ was playing a bully instead of his usual obnoxious nerd. I also like that they didn’t model the characters after the people doing their voices, as I find that distracting and weird.
All in all, a terrific “PG horror” entry that showcases the best stop-motion work I’ve seen, giving something for everyone to enjoy. I’d go see it again (with the 3D surcharge!), which is the highest compliment I can give nowadays. Enjoy!
What say you?