Friday, August 31, 2012

REVIEW: ParaNorman 3D


Kodi Smit-McPhee,
Tucker Abrizzi


August 17, 2012

Sam Fell, Chris Butler

Focus Features, LAIKA

1 hour 32 minutes



Back in 2009, a new stop motion company named LAIKA delivered their first feature with an adaptation of a bestselling kids novel called 'Coraline,' and it both entertained and frightened kids and adults everywhere. Not only that, but it received high critical praise and was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards that year, only to lose to Disney and Pixar's 'Up.' Three years later, LAIKA brings their sophomore movie to the world, this time an original idea called 'ParaNorman.' 'ParaNorman' takes the idea of talking to the dead and brings it into a friendly, yet creepy, kids movie. Luckily enough, LAIKA succeeds once again, as this movie is funny, scary, and a lot of fun throughout. 'ParaNorman' is, without a doubt, the year's best animated movie so far.

Norman is the type of kid that nobody would ever want to be in their lifetime: a strange and abnormal kid who isn't understood by his family and is consistently bullied by empty headed punks at school. What everyone sees as strange isn't as strange as one would expect. Norman, as it turns out, can see ghosts and talk to the dead. In fact, his only friends consist of his dead grandmother who hangs around his house, the ghosts who he sees walking down the street every day, and a kid at school who's also bullied around due to his weight. Norman isn't the only one who can see ghosts, and a man comes and warns him to prevent the ghost of the town's witch, who's believed to be a work of fiction, from waking up and spreading her curse on to everyone. That doesn't go the way the mystery man wants it to go, and the Witch's spirit, along with a bunch of zombies, wake up and start to wreak havoc on the tiny town. It's up to Norman to use his gift of talking to the dead to stop the witch and her terrible curse before it soon becomes hell on earth.

Every animation studio has their own style of the looks of their characters, and LAIKA is no exception here. Not only do the characters look original, but there's something about them that just pops and makes them stand out from other animated movies, including 'Coraline.' It's not even just the characters that look great; the setting and scope of the film are quite beautiful and gorgeous to look at. The way the sky looks in each scene where the witch is terrorizing the town is nothing short of magnificent to look at. Props are given to the art department's vision for making the world of this movie looking so amazing. Luckily enough, the voice actors playing the characters are just as colorful and great as the design of their little animated versions.

The voice of Norman belongs to an Australian actor named Kodi Smit-McPhee. This kid has been in some small films such as 'The Road' and the 2010 remake of a horror film called 'Let Me In.' He gives a fantastic voice performance as the title character, and possibly adds to how relatable the character is to kids who feel alone in school and kind of weird. In the emotional scenes of the film, the audience is really able to feel for this poor kid because of the predicament he's in. In my opinion, Smit-McPhee gives the best voice performance of the year so far, mainly because his voice fits perfectly into this awkward teenager. He doesn't shed the film's funniest lines, but it was bold to make an animated kids movie more serious than funny, and that makes the dramatic performance all the more better.

The rest of the voice cast all delivers as well. The first person to talk about is a young kid named Tucker Abrizzi. He's been in some movies, along with making his appearances on the Disney Channel and such. This is his first big performance, despite only being a voice. Basically his character was what the best friend in 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' was to Norman in here; however Norman isn't a total jerk. And this kid is actually pretty funny in the movie. It could've been the writers of the film that made this kid funny, but overall I like his voice and the persona he put into his character. Same goes with the other big voice actors in the movie, which includes Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and John Goodman. They all were great in the movie, some even shedding some hilarious lines. In fact, those hilarious lines were in the form of adult jokes. Whenever a kids movie is bold enough to write in jokes intended for adults to laugh at, talking about it is almost required because of how damn funny it can be.

When the director of a film and the writer of a film are one and the same, most of the time it works as a "home advantage" so to speak. The story, despite referencing other horror films and using the "I see dead people" concept that we've already seen before, is one of the more original ideas to come from a mainstream movie this year. Despite the film being advertised as a kids flick, that's exactly what this movie isn't. The film is creepy many times, which could make kids under the age of 9 pee their pants. Another reason is that the jokes in the film are very mature for a PG rating, some of them shocking to be in a kids movie in the first place.

There are references of everything from adult stores to homosexual relationships.  The jokes are hilarious, but parents might be offended and angry hearing this stuff in something they believed was a film directed towards kids. As much as this sounds like a complaint, it really isn't.  In fact, the boldness of making this animated movie geared more towards the teen crowd gives this more points in the book. If parents are looking for something to take their kids to see, this might not be the right film to be a part of "family night."

As a homage to old 80s movies, 'ParaNorman' hits it out of the park. As a horror comedy, 'ParaNorman' wins there as well. As one of the year's best movies, 'ParaNorman' goes three for three. Sure parents could get offended at the adult humor in the film and the amount of scares here as well, but this is a movie that you will love if you are the right audience for it. The voice work is great, the story and script are original as heck, and the animation is absolutely stunning. As much as I loved the film, there's something in here that's preventing me from giving it a perfect score. Can't quite figure it out, but it's definitely there. The 3D was also a disappointment, because it was going more for crisp imaging rather than depth of field/pop-out moments. If offered a 2D choice for this, I'd say take it, despite not getting cool 'ParaNorman' themed 3D glasses. However way you see the film, though, this is a movie that fails to disappoint, and something I look forward to seeing again. Pity that this didn't come out in October, because this would have been a HUGE Halloween movie.


Rise of the Guardians

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


Hotel Transylvania

Life of Pi

Despicable Me 2

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- Zach Marsh