Wednesday, September 5, 2012

“Paranorman”, Shoe-in for Best Animated Feature

Four Stars

“Paranorman”, the new film by the studio that brought us the wonderful “Coraline”, is about a boy who can speak to dead people. That sounds pretty clich├ęd, but “Paranorman” is a wonderful film for the whole family about accepting people who are different. I think that parts of it might be scary for younger kids, but I think the overall message is quite wonderful. Wonderful is a word I often use to describe films that I think are good for kids. “Paranorman” is about a kid named Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who lives in a small town in Massachusetts, which is obsessed with the witch trials that took place there all those years ago. The movie opens on Norman sitting in the living room with his grandmother. Little do we know that his grandmother died a year ago. His parents (Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin) think him weird for constantly talking about the dead people he sees. Norman is bullied at school, and the only person who tries to befriend him is the overweight kid, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi). Norman is a loner, but he soon finds out that he is going to need the help of Neil, his sister (Anna Kendrick), and Neil’s buff brother (Casey Affleck) if he is going to defeat the dead which are rising from the ground.
 “Paranorman” is made with stop motion animation instead of computer animation and it looks wonderfully done. Stop motion animation is when they create models of the characters and shoot them scene by scene. Also, the music in this film does a wonderful job of setting the mood. The film does become a bit of a chase, as Norman and his friends get stuck in the car as the dead rise from the cemetery. However, I was surprised at what this film is really about. It’s something more than just a spoof of horror movies with zombies. I won’t give it away, but there’s a reason this town revolves around the witch trials that took place so long ago. Norman is a bit of a witch himself, as he isn’t really understood.

Another thing I really liked about “Paranorman” is the script doesn’t play down to its audience. There’s even a joke in there where Norman says he can think but not sure if he can say the four letter word he is thinking of. Norman isn’t so much supernatural, as he is just the weird kid that happens to be able to speak to the spirits floating around as he walks to school. I like how matter of factly this film takes that. It isn’t scary that he has this ability, as much as he’s just the weird kid. However, the town misjudges him, his friends and the zombies. There are a lot of misunderstandings in this film, and it’s the witch’s curse that brought these zombies to life.

The thing that is great about “Paranorman” is that it’s a family film that is both artistic, as the animation is beautifully done and has a good message about not judging people. I think some of the film might be scary for younger children, but overall, I think it has a good message for kids a bit older. Being a teenager can be a bit tough, and I saw some of the same themes in this film that where in the same studio’s “Corlaline.” That theme of being a teenager and wishing for something a bit better was in “Coraline”. It’s Corlaline who learned to accept things. In “Paranorman”, it’s the people who are around Norman who learn to accept him.

My brother and I had an argument a while back, about the importance of films for families and younger people. I argued that it’s important to pick good movies for your kids to see. My brother thought there was room for all sorts of movies for kids to see. I argued that if a family can only afford one ticket, than it’s important they pick the film that is both a work of art and provides a good lesson for children to take away. The lesson of “Paranorman” is not judging people, and I think that’s a good lesson for a family film to have. After seeing this film, my brother said to me, that he sees my point. If you can only afford one ticket, see the movie your kids can take something away from.

Finally, with Pixar’s current two movies getting lukewarm reviews, and this being an okay year for animation instead of a grand year, I’m hoping to see “Paranorman” and Studio Ghibili’s wonderful “The Secret World of Arrietty” are up for Best Animated Feature this year. I love animation, and the magic of that art form is one of the reasons I go to the movies. Watch the beautiful scene in this film where Norman talks to the witch, sitting under a tree, in a lush field, and tell me why animation is just for kids. “Paranorman” is a wonderful film for both adults and kids, and a shoein for Best Animated Feature and one of the year’s best films.