Thursday, October 4, 2012

PARANORMAN A review by Kenneth Alexander Vasquez

Animation, be it traditional hand drawn, computer generated, or in this case, stop motion, is not, at least to me, a genre but rather another means to tell a story. 
By: Kenneth Alexander Vasquez
There's been a stigma for as long as animation has existed that it can ONLY be nothing more than funny, moving caricatures for children. Mind you, animation with substance and a thematically "grown" edge has existed for quite sometime, PIXAR being a good example as well as some anime, but in the end animation gets treated as nothing more than kids fair.

PARANORMAN, the latest offering from animation studio LAIKA (Coraline) and directed by Sam Fell (Flushed Away, The Tale of Desperaux) and Chris Butler (art coordinator for The Corpse Bride, Tarzan) delivers not only in visuals but substance. Right from it's vintage 80s style horror movie opening the audience knows they're in for a charming, fun, heartfelt and fittingly creepy good time.

In the quaint town of Blithe Hollow, Norman Babcock, voiced by Kodi Smith McPhee (The Road, Let Me In), is a misunderstood boy with the uncanny ability to see and speak to ghosts. When Norman is told by his estranged and eccentric uncle that he must protect the town from the curse of a witch convicted centuries ago, he valiantly races against time and a horde of the undead to set things right and prove to others how special someone different can be.

The animation itself, as stated before, has a somewhat aged look to it with the characters and setting resembling something out of the 80s despite the story taking place in modern day. Everything has a fluidity to it yet retains that likable "claymation" flare. Digital effects enhance and beautifully complement every scene in a very subtle and surprisingly seamless way. Where the film really exhales is in it's moving touch of melancholy and warmth. Norman holds conversations with a multitude of ghosts but it is his interaction with his sweet and almost clueless grandmother, voiced so very well by Elaine Stritch (A Farewell To Arms, Steel Magnolias, Autumn in New York), that stands out. Once the true circumstances behind the witch's curse are revealed the story becomes a sad cautionary tale of what fear and hatred can drive people to do to those who are unique.

The cast, which features seasoned actors as well as some of the most promising newcomers, is on point. Academy Award nominee Anna Kendrick (Twilight, Up In The Air, 50/50, Scott Pilgrim VS The World) as Norman's self centered sister Courtney, Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, Ocean's Eleven, The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford) as van driving jock Mitch, Christopher Mintz Plasse (Superbad, Kick Ass, Fright Night) voices the obnoxious and cowardly school bully Alvin, Bernard Hill (Titanic, The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers, The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King) as The Judge, John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, Fallen, The Artist) as Norman's uncle, Mr Penderghast, Tempestt Bledsoe (The Cosby Show) turns up as law abiding Sheriff Hooper, Tucker Albrizzi (Alvin and The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked) as Norman's newfound friend Neil and Jodelle Ferland as tortured and tragic soul, Aggie.

It is such a shame that films like this don't receive a warmer reception these days. Literally a great deal of hard work goes into bringing this kind of movies to life with sculptors and animators constantly turning up touching performances through stop motion puppets. It seems as though the demand for computer generated 3D animation is totally eclipsing this tried and true form. Thanks to the gifted artisans at Laika it looks like stop motion remains very much alive and as good a means to relate a thought provoking story. And due to Norman we all can learn that being different is good and that you don't become a hero by being normal.