By Jessica Delfanti | August 21, 2012
Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Writer: Chris Butler
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, John Goodman, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Tucker Albrizzi, Jeff Garlin, Bernard Hill
As far as children’s films go, very few manage to pull off a package that appeals to both the children in the theater and their parental attachees. Christ Butler’s deliciously dark ParaNorman is one of the few, delivering a film with impeccable style, childlike charm, and winks at the adult audience.
ParaNorman follows the young Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a child living as an outsider because of his uncanny ability to see and communicate with ghosts. When he inherits a duty to protect his small town from a witch’s curse, he teams up with his sister, Courtney (Anna Kendrick), new friend, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) and Neil’s older brother, Mitch (Casey Affleck) to repel a zombie invasion.
While the plot sounds exciting, its best moments lie in Norman’s unhappy dwelling on his loneliness. Norman’s powers do not exempt him from the plight of youth, and he suffers his role as an outcast with a tangible melancholy that echoes in the heart of the viewer. The fantasy storyline is at times exciting but culminates in a climax that arrives too early and drags on through a visually creative but narratively stale.
The film’s most striking aspect is not surprisingly the particular style of animation. Made at Laika, the stop-motion animation studio responsible for Coraline, the characters are thrown into bizarre proportions with almost touchable textures. Their faces teeter just on the edge of the uncanny valley, grimacing and leering and cavorting with a physicality that seems human and yet attractively alien.
Even more impressive are the representations of the film’s more fantastical elements. While the zombies are unremarkable, representations of magic and premonition are strikingly creative, beautiful, and exciting. Laika doesn’t just use its animation to create a film, it uses its animation to create a film that couldn’t be made by anyone else.
This animation is then brought alive by the talent of fantastic voice actors. Smith-McPhee, Kendrick, Albrizzi, and Affleck are joined by the unique voices of Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Bernard Hill, and John Goodman. Each voice brings remarkable personality to the animations and draws the audience into the film seamlessly.
Despite its drawn out ending, ParaNorman is an impressive example of the potential of animation when given the right amount of time and talent. Here’s hoping Laika’s next production won’t make us wait another 3 years.