ParaNorman (2012) review

Performing beyond the ‘Norm’

Todd Miller | Collegio Reporter

“ParaNorman” comes out with a great stride at a time of year when most family-movie consumers are starting to become too busy to visit the theaters. Instead of pandering to audiences who are less busy this time of year, the creators of “ParaNorman” set their sights on a wider audience, and they certainly earned it.
Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an 11-year-old who has the unusual ability to speak to the dead. However, Norman’s ability is believed to be made up by nearly everyone around him except his new best friend, Neil Downe (Tucker Albrizzi). This means he is constantly ill favored by his father (Jeff Garlin). Norman is also bullied at school by Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).

Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) talks to the dead in "ParaNorman" (Laika, 2012).

Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) talks to the dead in "ParaNorman" (Laika, 2012).

Norman’s life takes a detour when his estranged uncle, Mr. Penderghast (John Goodman) shows up, first in the flesh and then as a ghost. Mr. Penderghast shares Norman’s ability and passes on the duty of calming the fabled witch who is said to have cursed the ancient town-members to rise from the dead as zombies. When Norman is unable to do it, he must find a way to put the witch to rest while he, and the town, grapple with the risen dead.
“ParaNorman” follows in the clay-animation footsteps of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Coraline.” Clay animation takes a lot of work, but “ParaNorman’s” animators clearly put even more work into it, which makes for a suburbly-animated film.
The animation and doll design had only a few hiccups. Some of the animation early in the film, primarily the mouths when characters spoke, had clear differences in mouth shapes. That is, sometimes, while the characters spoke, I could clearly see quick changes where the mouthpiece had a slightly different shade or shape. But this was not a lasting problem and disappeared throughout the film.
The other flaw was in the characters’ physical designs. Although it’s an animated movie, and the characters are allowed to have “cartoon proportions,” several members of the main cast had parts that were too over-the-top compared to the more normal characters. Things like Mitch Downe’s (Casey Affleck) torso or Norman’s mother’s (Leslie Mann) jaw bugged me every time I saw them. This is not a good quality in important, peripheral characters. Also, the ears seemed to stick out too much on most of the characters, which was distracting.
The plot also left much to be desired. The advertisements for the film set it up to be more than the film could deliver. It takes half the movie for the interesting stuff to get going, which doesn’t leave much time for the movie to add anything else. I was expecting an epic, hour-and-a-half long adventure full of ghosts and zombies, but I only got about half an hour with a few zombies and almost no ghosts.
The writing is solid, and the writers did a fantastic job of building up the characters, even the minor ones. The characters played off each other well, allowing the audience to understand more about them without any obvious or dull exposition. Even the first few minutes of the movie, as the camera pans around Norman’s town, is full of tiny character profiles. We’re able to infer a lot about these small, unimportant characters that surround Norman’s life in a short amount of time.
So, other than the few hiccups I noticed in the animation, “ParaNorman” is a solid movie. Much of the setting animation is stunningly beautiful and the character animation is, for the most part, smooth and realistic. The writing is solid and the soundtrack is engaging. Overall, I’d say “ParaNorman” is a great movie for older kids, but it will be equally enjoyable for adults, too.

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