Friday, August 17, 2012

ParaNorman (2012)

2009 was the last year that experienced a huge mainstream resurgence in the stop-motion animation field. Now it feels like it has ignited this spawn to occur where three films of the aforementioned craft release every third year after it happened. "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" was the first of the three stop-motion animated films to release this year, which was a pleasant adventure but still a tad disappointing when comparing it to Aardman Animations' past credits. Second in the lineup is "ParaNorman," the LAIKA sophomore follow-up to their 2009 sleeper hit "Coraline." Proclaimed by its co-director Sam Fell as "John Carpenter-meets-John Hughes," does "ParaNorman" live up to that bold summary, or does it tarnish the potential good streak that stop-motion animated films have had this year so far? Hit the jump button to find out!

Norman Babcock (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a young social outcast in the sleepy New England town of Blithe Hollow. The reason why Norman is an outcast is because he has the ability to talk to the supernatural forces that nobody else in the city can see. His remarkable ability though has been the target of near constant scorn from the fellow students at his school, the majority of the local townspeople, and even his own father and older sister. Approached by the fact that he's the new protector of his town's centuries-old witch's curse, he along with the most unlikely team must stop the curse from coming true, or it will mean the imminent destruction of the small town.

The voice acting for the most part is commendable, with breakthrough teen actor Kodi Smit-McPhee headlining an A-List composed of Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, and Jeff Garlin. Smit-McPhee lends a sorrowful innocent tone to Norman, which works to a solid effect because that is about the perfect way to describe the character itself. However, I'm still hoping that he doesn't get typecasted in this role for the future years of his career, because he's technically already played that aforementioned role in "The Road" and "Let Me In." Don't get me wrong though, because he plays this kind of role better than almost every teen actor out there today, but I just want to see him broaden his range a little bit.

As for the rest of the big names in the voice cast, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, and Casey Affleck definitely stand out with the vocal style they lend to their characters. Albrizzi is full of optimistic pep and awkwardness in the role of Norman's friend Neil, who is the main comic relief for the majority of the film. Kendrick walks a fine line of voicing Norman's older sister whose personality is a cleverly satirical reminiscing of the way most girls her age act today in this generation. Finally, Affleck is quite hilarious as Neil's older brother that is a jock full of stoic and laid back qualities.

Alongside with co-director assistance from veteran stop-motion filmmaker Sam Fell, Chris Butler knocks out a solid debut into the wondrous field. His script is packed full of clever nods to classic horror movies that mostly include "Halloween," "Friday the 13th," and "Night of the Living Dead," but also constructs satirical pokes to the genre's conventions, especially in an immensely entertaining 70s horror movie-esque opening scene. Butler also isn't afraid to make the humor adult-centric, and that is gradually shown more as the film progresses, even if it loses that effect just a tad in the third act.

The stop-motion animation is expectedly breathtaking throughout, composed mostly of extremely detailed character designs and surprisingly vast landscapes for the film's small town setting. Once the witch's curse awakening occurs at around the 30-minute mark of the film, it opens the door for numerous sequences that require a keen eye for attention at where to precisely move the character for the next shot after another. Some people still may not recognize and acknowledge the tiresome, yet fully committed art of stop-motion animation in comparison to the traditional mainstream varieties used today, but it deservedly should earn enough immense respect for still existing in this current age of cinema.

As for any flaws in this film, they range from the tone abruptly shifting in a few certain scenes, in addition to the slightly overlong climax. While the film does maintain a respectable balance of various comedy techniques in addition to the creepy atmosphere, there are certain points during the film where a creepy scene would abruptly cut to a quick comedy punchline in another setting. The technique works to a decent effect the first few times, but it still left me with a pondering feeling that they could've stretched along one scene a bit longer than the other. Finally, the climax while being entertaining and also sweetly lighthearted, its overall length felt a tad drawn out where 5-10 minutes at the most could've been cut out to avert that nitpick from happening.

While it falls just shy of eclipsing LAIKA's glorious 2009 stop-motion feature debut "Coraline," "ParaNorman" is still an supremely entertaining and visually stunning follow-up film that avoids the studio succumbing to a sophomore slump. Filled with a great voice cast, amazing attention-to-detail in the stop-motion animation, and a mostly consistent tone that combines the likes of John Carpenter and 1980s Amblin Entertainment features, "ParaNorman" is a feast to the eyes for the most die-hard stop-motion fans, in addition to both kids and adults alike, too.

Final Grade: A-

1 comment:

  1. The trailer didn't really make me want to see this, but numerous good reviews (like from you and Joel) make me consider otherwise. Great review Tyler