Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stop-Motion Hasn't Been This Scary Fun Since Jack Skellington: Our Review of "ParaNorman" (2012)

Directed By: Sam Fell (Flushed Away) & Chris Butler 

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck

Rating: PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Synopsis: Blithe Hollow is a small New England town famous for being cursed by a witch they hung 300 years prior. Norman Babcock (Smit-McPhee) is young boy who can talk to dead people, and on the night of the 300th anniversary of the witch’s death, his crazy uncle passes on the responsibility of saving the town by suppressing the witch’s curse.


Andrew: Hello readers! Slowly but surely we're getting to the day on the calendar when I return to Connecticut from Central Pennsylvania and we can get back to a normal blogging routine. In the meantime, Sarah caught this past weekend's new animated film, ParaNorman, on Monday night and I saw it this afternoon. ParaNorman is the latest film from Laika, the animation studio that brought us Coraline a couple of years back.

ParaNorman is a stop-motion film (like Coraline) about a young boy named Norman who has The Sixth Sense and can talk to dead people. Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In) stars as the voice of Norman, and he's surrounded by a pretty star-studded cast including Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad), Leslie Mann (Knocked Up), John Goodman (The Big Lebowski) and more.

So Sarah, I know I personally had been looking forward to this movie for a while, but I can't remember if you were the same. So remind me, where you looking forward to this? And now that we've seen it, what did you think?

Sarah: I was sort of looking forward to this because I thought it looked funny. It also looked really well done for a stop-motion, clay-mation film. I was actually surprised by how dark it actually was. 

I won't say that I didn't like it though, because it was actually really good. It just wasn't what I expected.

A: What did you expect?

We know, zombies, we weren't expecting the movie to be THIS dark either!

S: I expected it to be funnier. They gave away most of the funny parts in the trailers. And while there were some extra funny lines throughout the movie, most of the lines that we'd already heard weren't funny the third and fourth time around.

I also expected this to be more of a kids movie. When I think of clay-mation movies I think of it geared more towards little kids. Instead, it had a very dark feel to it. The entire premise of the witch's curse and the living dead was, at times, very creepy. I suppose looking back on the other movies that have come from this studio (Coraline) I shouldn't have expected a super kid-friendly film. The witch reveal at the end was much more dramatic than I expected and was a little scary to boot.

A: I will give you that. They gave away a lot of the funny parts aimed at kids in the trailer, but yeah, a lot of the things that happen or are said in ParaNorman could be too much for kids. Like when Norman's crazy uncle who can also talk to the dead dies himself. It's played for laughs, but the dude is still dead!

Or like one of the funniest parts of the film towards the end when Mitch (Casey Affleck), the older brother of Norman's friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) is asked out to a movie by Norman's sister. That......that's a joke that isn't really for kids, but more for teens and adults. And yes, the confrontation with the witch got pretty weird and dark, which is maybe the ONE thing I'll knock this film down for.

But other than that, I personally loved this film. It wasn't rolling on the floor comedy but when the subtle jokes landed, they were funny. Then I loved all the horror movie references, particularly the John Carpenter-esque synthesizer score whenever the zombies can around. And it LOOKED great and the voice actors were top-notch.

S: There's also bad language in this movie that makes it not geared toward children. 

I do think the horror aspect is where they lost me It’s just not my genre. I will say that it was a very interesting story. This small town in the New England, Blithe Hollow, is cursed by a "witch" who was killed over 300 years ago. If she is not read to out of a specific book each year on the date of her death, she raises the 7 who sentenced her to death. I liked that concept. 

And then it actually got a little sad when it got into the witch’s backstory more. I actually liked how it reflected back on Norman and came full circle at the end.

A: I actually really liked the story. It seems like it's a story we're heard before with The Sixth Sense, but I enjoyed the tale of the town's history. It was a fully fleshed out story and it gave me a good idea of exactly WHY Norman felt so alone. And they did a great job making us connect with Norman. The first part of the film where we see him seemingly talking to nobody as he walks to school was equal parts sad and interesting.

A strength in ParaNorman is how you get a true feeling for how Norman is an outcast even inside his own family (except for his dead grandmother)

I guess it kinda boils down to the fact that the movie had a lot of heart hidden inside the macabre tale. It touched me when Norman's dead grandmother explained why she was still a ghost and not in heaven with her husband. And then Norman is just a kind soul, so what he does to save the town felt really genuine. I don't know. I liked most everything about this film.

S: I do applaud them for making this movie in clay-mation and still bringing a good story to the big screen. While it wasn't my favorite movie of the summer, it was different and that was refreshing.

Final thoughts?

A: ParaNorman has a very strong story that is told well, it establishes who the main character is and why you should care about him, it's cute, it's funny (if a little too aimed at adults, like the mom complaining to the dad that she wanted to go out for dinner because he said "someone else would microwave our dinner"), the environment the film is set in looks gorgeous and the voice-acting is superb. I loved Casey Affleck as Mitch and Anna Kendrick as Courtney, I liked McLovin' as the bully, Alvin, and it was just all around solid. Oh, and the 3D was superb because they actually USED three-dimensional clay characters. I wouldn't mind owning it someday, honestly.

S: We’ll see. I might need to warm up to it just a liiiiiittle bit more before we buy it.

FINAL VERDICT: Go see it in theatres ASAP!

(Out of Five clapboards)


  1. I keep putting this off because I want to see other stuff, like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Ruby Sparks. Maybe I'll catch it sooner than later (I stated in my podcast I'd see it right away). I hope so at least and your review made me a little bit more excited for it!

    1. It's definitely worth seeing, especially in 3D because like most recent animated films, the 3D is fantastic and actually adds depth to the film.

  2. Sounds like you guys had mixed reactions. I think it might eventually grow on me a little as well, but I'll never love it.

    1. I agree with you. it might grow on me as well. It won't be one that I pop in the DVD player and watch on a regular basis though.

  3. Great review Andrew. This flick was a little too slow at times for me, but for the most part kept me entertained with its humor and energetic voice-cast. Especially the little fat kid, who was not only was cute as anything, but also nailed every time he had a funny line.

    1. Thanks Dan. As always, Sarah and I appreciate the comment!