ParaNormaning It Up
I didn't watch it as soon as it came out, but the movie ParaNorman is one that I really wish I would have talked about more. It's the newest release from LAIKA studios, based out of Portland, Oregon, which is best known for the film Coraline. Their previous production. As you might have guessed it, a film like this takes a long time to create. But that time really does help in making something truly beautiful to look at.
This film is about Norman, a "freak" who can see and communicate with ghosts. His weirdness is known to all and it makes him an outcast in his community. What community? Well, the town of Blithe Hollow--a city famed only for its well-marketed witch shtick. Yes, as you might imagine, the witch connection is important. Norman is the only one with the power to send the witch back to sleep and prevent her curse from raising the dead and destroying the town. Dun dun dun!
There are others who aid him in this venture, including the other outcast kid, Neil, who is ostracized for being fat. This kid is Norman's closest companion in the film, though it's surprising how little this relationship is emphasized compared to the others. What others? Well, Norman's cheerleader sister, for one, complete with beautifully-rendered lipgloss. (Not in a creepy way, it's just that the lighting in the film is absolutely spot-on.) Then there's the school bully, Alvin, who causes a mess but is also instrumental in a better solution. There is also Neil's older brother, Mitch, the stereotypical jock (except for a late-in-the-game twist--wait for it, wait for it.) Norman also has a disapproving father and a rather wishy-washy mother. His grandma is around, too, although she's rather on the deceased side by the time the film begins.
Sounds pretty cliche, right? Well, no. Not at all. If anyone spoils the twists for you in this film, punch them. Punch them right in the face. Unlike a lot of films, the slow and meticulous nature of a stop-motion film gives them lots of time to think about things connect, how ideas should be visualized, how emotions should be portrayed--and the damn thing came out absolutely perfect. It's funny, it's terrifying, it's creepy, it's clever, and it's heart-wrenching. A little too scary for the youngest of kids, yes, but aside from that, it's fair fare for all. The voice actors and actresses are also in excellent form, with an especially wonderful presence of John Goodman. (Although perhaps the best acting from this character is from his body instead....)
What is perhaps most interesting is that this film seems to be contesting the idea of the "revenge fantasy" which is common to the point of being almost ubiquitous for films about protagonistic outsiders. "Oh, I'm different, and you treated me like crap, but now it's my turn! I'll show you all! Et cetera!" Here, violent retribution--even for terrible misdeeds--is not condoned, even when the original behaviors are acknowledged as evil.
To be honest, I have no idea why this wasn't a Halloween film, except that it wasn't. So you best enjoy it while you still can. It is worth noting that this is not a zombie film or a zombie survival film in the way that all the ads made it out to be. If you're sick of zombie films, then this is still a great choice.
Even if you hate good plots and smart writing, come for the art. Never before have I seen such artful lighting, framing, and color use. A film like this is a gem and needs to be appreciated on the big screen, if only for their brilliant use of gauze and teeny-tiny LEDs. Just look at the luminescence of Norman's ears up there! It's remarkable, truly. All those little faces and giant sets and intricate lights.... What you get at the end is truly magical. And somehow made on a budget of only $45 million (compared to Brave's budget of $185 million!)
I enjoyed most of it but it seemed rather harsh on the bullied. Norman pretty much said that it was partially this girl's fault for getting herself lynched. It also suggests that bullies are always afraid of those that they bully which is not true a lot of the time.
So by all means, help stop-motion stay alive by seeing this film. Clearly, it's a completely valid way to make visually complex and intricate films. But money talks louder than common sense ever could. I tell you, it's the stop-motion. that's probably the main selling point of the film, but, as with Coraline, this film runs much deeper than superficial technical quality.