Wednesday, August 22, 2012
"ParaNorman" much like "Coraline" is a stop-motion kid's movie that dares give the kiddies some dark visuals and heavy themes with a horror movie vibe. In fact, this one goes quite a great deal further with the horror movie stuff, including making the entire story a direct homage to 70s B-Zombie-Movies. It again stars a misunderstood preteen child caught in a strange supernatural adventure and tasked to save the world, but this time the lead character, Norman, is not merely suffering the awkward isolation of a move but actually is a true loner. Norman can talk to ghosts, which isolates him from his family, his class, and his entire town. As defense measure, he seems to have grown to accept his segregation and prefers the company of the dead, applying that obsession to a very healthy love of crappy often Italian horror movies. Unfortunately it turns out Norman is also key to an Colonial Witch Curse that plagues his home town, forcing him to save the entire world from ultimate darkness.
What I was looking forward to was a brilliantly-animated family film with an edgy tone like "Coraline", and "ParaNorman" completely delivers on that front. I don't believe it quite reaches the same glorious heights as Laika's first film, but it still stands an excellent movie for which to end my summer vacation. Yeah, I'm going back to school, and this appears to be the last movie I'll be seeing before I must return to that place I call "college". That's really weighty stuff, considering its my last year, and in just nine months or so I'll have to become... an adult! DUN DUN DUN! While dealing with the neverending stress of that kind of transformation, its good to have decent movies to distract you for a moment with an interesting take on the world. "ParaNorman" is one of those great movies that dares not only to entertain children and families, but actually maybe teach them something. I guess I didn't need the lesson, but I was glad to be entertained for the ride.
First of all, "ParaNorman" is a huge jump forward for stop-motion animation, appearing as just a significant boost forward in quality as "Coraline" was. That's not a forgettable feat: they made a movie that looks better than "Coraline". The scale in characters, the variety of expressions, just the ability to replicate every little piece of the modern world in stop-motion without a single awkward jitter or lapse in steady realistic motion. Its very impressive work. "ParaNorman" uses that raw power to create rather grotesque take on humanity. The most clearly attractive character in the entire cast in terms of looks is Norman, and he has Slim Jim hair and huge ears. The rest of the casts are either fat slobs, idiots, scumbags, shrews, and ugly in every other way you could imagine. It gets to the point that I think they might have gone a bit too ugly for these people, as most of the supporting cast is pretty unlikable and awful. But it also works in the movie as Norman (quite reasonably) is annoyed by these people who are too selfish to understand him.
The first section of the movie features Norman's usual life of isolation. This was probably the section that most gripped-me personally, since at one point I was that strange loner kid in class who everybody thought was crazy. Then luckily Middle School happened and I learned to talk to people, but I can feel Norman's plight. Of course, then I got sidewinded with the prospect of Norman sitting down watching horror movies with his grandma, who just so happens to be a ghost. Awww, I used to watch old slasher movies and monster movies with my grandma, who luckily is still alive. (And I really hope Grandma Duck won't be a ghost anytime soon, not for decades yet.) But worse for Norman, nobody seems to have any sense of his "Frighteners"-esque gift. His dickass father is so confused by the ghost stuff that he acts like a monster the entire movie to his son**. The people on the street avoid him, since all they see is a strange little boy talking to himself, the kids at school avoid him, and his only friends are ghosts and this fat kid even more pathetic than he is. Well, the fat kid is honestly just a humanoid puppy, so its hard to stay mad at him.
One thought that started nagging me during the movie was this: "what if Norman actually was schizophrenic? What if he really did have a serious mental illness and everybody in this town were just the absolute worst of monsters, including his own family?" That made me terribly sad. Also, his school really needs to make an IEP for this kid, at least do something to make sure the other students don't ruin his life every day. Luckily for the movie, Norman isn't crazy, and his gift is essential to saving the world. But still, I'm really disturbed by how Norman's parents have never found any way to work with their son's eccentricities.
When the zombies actually do rise from the grave, there were a few characters introduced who I really wanted to just get eaten immediately. There are cartoony grotesque comic reliefs, and there's the horrifically ugly bully kid. The zombies come at first with full 80s power, accompanied by a thumping rift that could have easily come straight out of "Zombi 2". However, after a very long chase scene, we start to realize these zombies are actually pretty ineffectual and pathetic, pushed away easily by a very genre-savvy angry mob. Its at that point that you're assumptions about the movie are completely flipped on their head, and "ParaNorman" throws in twists that aren't quite so much terrifying and really disturbing. You know how I said that the townsfolk treated Norman like crap last paragraph? Well, trust me, this town was a heck of a lot worse back in the Puritan days.
While I now struggle to explain the remainder of the movie without giving too much away, but its really the conclusion, I think that puts the entire movie together. The final confrontation is easily the most stunning piece of animation, and an excellent example of how a movie's main theme is mixed together right into the climax, every bit working together to create a single important moment that ties the entire work together. The backstory to "ParaNorman" is really so crushingly terrible that I must salute Laika for going ahead and explaining in clear language exactly what kind of crime has been committed here. There are R-rated movies that wouldn't go this far, but "ParaNorman"'s directors were willing to push this vision all the way through.
Odd, I thought it was Pixar who used to push the boundaries of film art. Oh well.
My biggest issue with "ParaNorman" was the side characters, but for the most part the movie is a solid twisted take on our own society. You can see it in the art style. There are no straight lines in "ParaNorman", every angle is slightly twisted. So the normally straight rows of buttons on a cellphone are torn in every direction and come off as huge messes. Its stylized and I understand the purpose of uglifying the characters. "ParaNorman", despite that one fault, is still very funny, very brilliant, and actually a really beautiful movie, despite how disgusting some of the character designs are. I really strongly recommend this one.
* Every advertisement claims that "ParaNorman" is from the people who made "Coraline", which is partially true. It is made by the same animation company, but Henry Sellick, the director, has nothing to do with it, he doesn't even work for Laika anymore. Which is ironic since "Coraline" was advertised as being made by "the director of 'Nightmare Before Christmas'" which is true - Henry Sellick directed that - but nearly everybody believed "Coraline" to be a Tim Burton movie. Tim Burton wishes he could make movies this good anymore.
** Norman's dad is the worst asshole of a father I've seen in a movie since the drunken father from "Chronicle".