Friday, August 24, 2012


These days, it seems like a safe bet to say that if you're going to make a movie using a traditional form of animation, you're going to make one with a worthwhile story to tell. Traditional animation is just too time consuming to invest the effort into making if the story isn't there to go with it. So I'm pleased to say that Laika Studios' new film ParaNorman is a product worthy of the time and effort spent making it.

Laika is also the studio behind Coraline, the otherworldly stop motion animation film based on the book by Neil Gaiman. Even though, ParaNorman doesn't share any of the writers or directors from Coraline, it delivers the same high quality of storytelling that Coraline had. If they keep this up, Laika is going make a name for itself as the Pixar of stop motion animation. (That is, if Pixar specialized in making creepy, supernatural films aimed at all audiences.) Speaking of Pixar, ParaNorman might just give Brave a run for its money at the Oscars.

With ParaNorman, Laika seemed to take their target audience for the movie and model the central character around that. Norman is an outcast who doesn't have any friends at school and isn't understood by his family. Hopefully for most viewers that's where the relatability ends, as Norman is an outcast because he can see and talk to dead people, but everybody thinks he just does it as a way to get attention. It also doesn't help that Norman's uncle used to make the same claims, but everybody just assumed he was insane.

Just as Norman is getting used to the idea that he should stop telling everybody about all the ghosts he sees, and act a bit more normal, his uncle tells him about a centuries old curse that threatens the town, and how Norman has to be the one to keep it at bay. When the curse does hit, he manages to convince enough people to help him on his mission, but the local townspeople start losing their minds once a pack of zombies starts strolling through town.

You can tell that the people who made this movie have a real love for the horror genre, and wanted to pass some of that along for a younger generation. I'm not talking family friendly stuff like the black and white Universal Pictures monster movies. I mean stuff like Halloween, Night of the Living Dead, and all of the low budget knockoffs that followed. They're the movies that in theory, good parents should never show their children, but in reality the best ones always did.

I'm not exaggerating when I say this. It almost felt like something inspired by Shaun of the Dead, minus the swearing and gore. ParaNorman parodies the classic horror movies in that way that makes fun of them, while at the same time, reminding audiences how great they are.

As for the animation, the filmmakers pull of some wonderfully surreal shots throughout the movie, especially when Norman finds himself having visions of things that happened in the past, and the world starts to burn away like something out of Silent Hill. But the really impressive stuff comes at the end when you see the witch that's behind the curse. It's a bit hard to describe, and I don't want to ruin it for you anyway, but it makes great use of the kind of visuals you can pull off when you're shooting a movie frame by frame.

I didn't see ParaNorman in 3D, but this is the one instance where I'm going to say I regret not doing that. Of all the movies I've seen shot in 3D, Coraline was the only one I felt that there was a genuine added value to the viewer because of how it made the surreal visuals pop out at the viewer. Seeing as how they're made by the same studio, I imagine ParaNorman's vivid imagery must look just as impressive in 3D.

Overall, ParaNorman is a welcome addition to the canon of Great Nerd Movies. I can see it easily becoming a cult classic for a younger generation. And for any parents out there who are horror movie fans, this is a great primer to get your young ones started.