Movie Review: 'ParaNorman'

The latest stop-motion from LAIKA is the best animated movie I've seen this year.

ParaNorman is the second stop-motion effort from LAIKA, the studio responsible for 2009's Coraline.

Whereas Coraline was directed by Henry Selick, the stop-motion master behind The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant PeachParaNorman was helmed by a pair of directors: first-timer Chris Butler and Sam Fell, who has a limited background in animation but never in stop-motion.

Considering the incredible undertaking that is creating a stop-motion picture of this size, it's surprising that the somewhat inexperienced pair pulled together such an enjoyable film.

Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an outcast. He has the undesirable quality of not only being able to communicate with the dead, but he encounters them in every day life as if they never left. He routinely sits and watches horror movies with the ghost of his grandmother. At school he's ridiculed for being a freak (obviously nobody believes him) and at home his parents are worried that his stories reflect some deeper psychological issues.

Sometime in the past, members of the small town Norman lives in publicly tried and executed someone they perceived to be a witch. Since then, a yearly ritual performed by a man named Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman) has kept the spirit of the witch from wreaking havoc on the town. With Mr. Prenderghast out of the picture, it's up to Norman to fill in.

I've always loved the look of stop-motion, and ParaNorman might be the best looking stop-motion I've ever seen. From each meticulously created character puppet, to the ambitiously large and comprehensive sets, the film is a wonder to look at. When you consider the time that goes into taking each individual photo, it makes it all the more impressive.

What's even more impressive than that, perhaps, is the near endless parade of perfect characters. Each character's uniquely clever humor fits his or her individual persona to a T, and the actors chosen to voice the characters are almost universally perfect as well. Who'd have thought Casey Affleck would be able to voice a teenage bodybuilder so well?

Forgivable are somewhat obvious reveals of the film's moral teachings because, after all, this is a movie for kids. Although I have to say, the climax is surprisingly intense, and I can imagine it scaring younger kids (Coraline has a reputation as being quite dark as well). The story, although straightforward, aims to teach a contemporary lesson, and does so more effectively than I could have predicted. ParaNorman is also a very socially progressive film, but that little gem is something you'll have to discover for yourself. 


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