Sunday, August 19, 2012

Paranorman: Normal is the Watchword


Studio Laika, the animation movie studio that brought you Coraline a couple of years ago, is back with a new movie. Chris Butler and Sam Fell's Paranorman was a pleasant surprise and along with The Avengers, the most fun I've had in the theater so far this year. 

Norman is a young kid who can talk to ghosts. Because of this, he is not only bullied by the kids in his school, but misunderstood and neglected by his family who don't want to be the laughing stock of their little Massachusetts town where Norman is believed to be a freaky, crazy, kid. Things, however, will turn out differently from what they expect when an ancient curse (dating back to the witch-burning days of yore) will bring zombies back to live to haunt the them. 

As they did with Coraline, Laika studios has crafted a beautiful film, with exquisite stop-motion animation that proves the artisanal craftsmanship involved in animated a movie frame-by-frame is more spectacular and awe-inducing than anything a computer could render. But Paranorman, is not only a movie that looks great. It is also an incredibly clever and well-written film.  

As a horror-comedy it has a unique affection for the genre that is present from the opening scene mimicking old slasher horror movies to the pay-off to what in most movies would have clearly been a romantic relationship remaining hilarious from start to finish -thanks in no small part to a terrific voice cast that includes Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick, John Goodman and Elaine Stritch. As it is case with the better animated movies (and not those horrible Shrek-knock-offs) the comedy, referencial as it may be, remains character-focused, which will make things funny to anyone who watches and not only those that catch the reference.

However, the real thing that set Paranorman to the top of this year's movies is that besides it being truly funny, Norman's story is one that carries a lot of emotional weight and that I'm sure will resonate with a lot of young viewers. Not unlike our recently covered Dumbo, Paranorman is about acceptance only a different way. It is not only about Norman saving his town and therefore be accepted as he is, but it is also about tolerance and the town learning to accept the members of their society no matter how weird they seems at first. 

Like another wonderful animated movie, How To Train Your Dragon, it asks for understanding and reconciliation in the face of fear. It doesn't ask for our heroes to be warriors, but pacifists, dialogue-starters. Not talkers, but listeners. I think this is still an incredibly important message to get across, that done in such an outstanding way by the filmmakers, makes Paranorman one of the best films of the year.

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