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Coming from Laika (the studio that specializes in stop-motion animation and brought Henry Selick’s 2009 masterpiece “Coraline”) is the downright scariest and most genre-inspired animated 3D film that we will probably ever have the pleasure to see in “ParaNorman.”
Directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler hit the bull’s eye on what they were going for in this. With clever references to horror genre films like “The Evil Dead” and “Halloween” (among many others) sitting at every left and right turn, these moments of subtlety genuinely speak to fans who appreciate the works of John Carpenter, Sam Raimi and even Edgar Wright’s “Shaun Of The Dead.”
But “ParaNorman” is not entirely a spoof, even considering how humorous it may be at times. It is eerily similar to the aforementioned “Coraline” in many ways – and not only in looks. Both feature stories with protagonists searching for their place in their little world, both ignored (especially by their parents) for who they actually are. Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), like Coraline, is quite obviously different; he’s often called a freak at school because he can see and talk to the ghosts of the dead.
Norman’s curiosity gets the best of him, as he learns from an old smelly bum that he must save his town from the rising of the undead by reciting a witch’s curse. Eventually, the crew destined to hold off Blithe Hollow from the witch’s curse is comprised of the pre-teen hero Norman, the gauged dummy Alvin, the meathead Mitch (voiced hilariously by Casey Affleck), the dumb pretty blonde girl Courtney (the also quite funny Anna Kendrick) and the equally plump and useless Neil.
The colorful cast is set to remind us that no matter how dissimilar they are, each one of them can still fit in – it reminds me a lot of a John Hughes movie in that aspect. With that being said, as a 21 year-old college student watching this, “ParaNorman” came off as a horror spoof through and through instead of a message movie, while for the children sitting in the audience around me… this was an unreservedly horrifying movie. Several minors had to be escorted out of the screening I attended because the imagery is so petrifyingly vivid – the animated zombies differ minimally from films like “The Evil Dead,” except for the absence of blood, and the scary stuff pops out of nowhere at times and might have made me jump once or twice.
The setting of Blithe Hollow is an eerie little town that is blatantly just a recreation of Salem, Massachusetts. From the obsession with witches to the witch trials to the witch statue in the center of town, there doesn’t seem to be much reason why they didn’t just call this place Salem. As I’ve mentioned before, the imagery is spellbinding even for a 3D movie, and I felt sitting in that theater as if I was in a cartoon version of The Witch City.
Unless I’m missing something, there’s one teeny tiny characteristic that I didn’t like about young Norman. My big question is whether or not he is schizophrenic? This does not definitively get answered, and although I do prefer ambiguous endings to concrete ones, I’m not sure if this ending here is going to have the most positive effect on children – especially considering that during the screening I attended, there were multiple kids screaming completely helplessly. I really hope for the sake of the quality of animated movies that these kids don’t start seeing things…
“ParaNorman” should have honestly come out in early October: I feel like it would be much more marketable around Halloween time, but who am I to judge when it should be released? This was some great, magical stuff that I won’t forget anytime soon and will probably go see again without 3D glasses.
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