ParaNorman, the brainchild of Chris Butler, who has previously worked as a Storyboard Supervisor on Coraline and The Corpse Bride, is a 2012 stop-motion animation about Norman Babcock, an unassuming boy from Massachusetts, who can speak with the dead. ParaNorman breaks ground all over the place, not least because it is the first ever stop-motion animation to utilize full-colour 3-D printers, but because it successfully blends horror, comedy and a fun, family adventure all into one masterfully-crafted end product.
As is the key with most lasting animations, the title character often determines how successful or resonating the movie will ultimately be with its audience. Here Norman is the perfect hero- he is an ideal blend of the relatable, with an element of the extraordinary, making him likeable and sweet, which cements our desire for him to succeed. Arguably, Norman is the life force of the film, however, the supporting characters are equally as tangible and rounded. Neil, Norman’s best friend, is the perfect antidote to Norman’s understandably pessimistic view of the world, and Casey Affleck, as Neil’s brother Mitch, and Anna Kendrick, as Norman’s vapid sister Courtney, both bounce charismatically off each other brilliantly. Together they bring a lot of the film’s lighter moments, of which there many, within the knife sharp script, with its cutting and insightful wit and gleefully dark undercurrent.
Written with a clear love of animation and a respect for the audience, ParaNorman plays on the edge of ‘child appropriate’ with some genuinely scary and ominous moments. Mortality, persecution, acceptance and forgiveness are all major themes here, which Butler navigates with the expertise and quality of a seasoned story teller. The message never feels forced or trite and even the end showed a pathos and maturity that is often missing from films for adults. This maturity is built in, none more so than in the aesthetics themselves.
Visually this film is popping candy for the eyes. The stop-motion is incredible, echoes of The Corpse Bride and Coraline are clear to see, however this film is anything but lazy or unoriginal. Direction from Butler and Sam Fell means the animation is woven in with the CGI gracefully and intelligently,and the attention to detail is stunning. They have created a world we recognise that is admirably void of the, sometimes distancing, gloss of most animations. This world is real, dirty, dark and scary and is the perfect back-drop to a wonderful story.
ParaNorman is a breath of fresh air within an orgy of superheroes sequels and a deluge of rehashed ideas. It’s funny, well made, heartfelt and bloody fantastic. If you like film, you’ll love this.