Oddly enough, itS the best zombie movie I’ve seen in ages.
ParaNorman is about a kid who’s been outcasted by his peers and more or less shunned by his family because he says he sees dead people, even talks to ’em, too. As one might imagine, life ain’t too peachy when no one believes your best friends are ghosts. But then, one day, Norman finds his calling in the form of an estranged, creepy uncle who also happens to hang out with dead folks. Apparently, his uncle’s been busy keeping the spirit of a dead witch at bay by reading fairy tales at her burial ground at the same time every year. Realizing he doesn’t have much time left, the uncle entrusts Norman to carry the torch, then promptly drops dead without giving him all the details. With time ticking away and few people to rely on, it’s up to Norman to save the town before everyone else starts seeing dead people.
So, this whole let’s-be-the-cool-older-brother-by-taking-your-little-brother-out-to-the-movies thing has really been paying off lately. Diary of a Wimpy kid was just what the doctor ordered and now there’s ParaNorman: one of the best times I’ve had in a theater all year, maybe one of the best movies I’ve seen all year, period. Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are by the way this review is shaping up. Heck, I thought I was biting the bullet with this one. The title’s unfortunate, so were the trailers, and, given that I haven’t seen Coraline and never had much desire to fill that void, the Laika studio connection wasn’t doing it for me either. But, since I ended up laughing from start to finish, drooled all over myself from how pretty everything looked, and now that I’m stuck with this urge to track down Coraline, this is yet another reason why you should never trust a trailer.
Except for the title. Still pretty unfortunate.
Now, a semi-easier way to explain what’s really going on in ParaNorman is that it’s like The Sixth Sense-meets-The Goonies-meets-Bully. Yes, one of these things is not like the other, and, no, I don’t think anyone going into this movie was expecting life lessons on understanding and acceptance via zombies and witches. In theory, it’s a stretch; a Scooby-Doo rerun with some feels on the side. Although, in practice, it’s this unexpected connection that makes this movie pretty great.
In the few months after I watched Bully, the thing I remember most is that it could have done more, could have served as a catalyst for change instead of just shedding light on devastating cruelties. Don’t get me wrong, it was important as heck and there was much to be gained; but, the more I think about it, the more I’m becoming partial to how ParaNorman tackles the issue. The lessons are the same, they’re just addressed with a lighter hand. With Bully, the vibe was more, “Treat other people as you would like them to treat you, or the absolute worst could happen.” With ParaNorman, it’s more, “Live by the Golden Rule because it’s the right thing to do.” At the end of the day, the latter approach is the one I’m gravitating towards and I think a younger audience would, too. Nothing too heavy-handed, just some subtle, effective, true-to-life wisdom about the perks of getting to know people and not being swayed by the opinions of others. Kid you not, it nearly brought me to tears.
It all goes back to Norman. What’s great about this kid is that he doesn’t seem weird, even though it’s easy to see why he people walk all over him. It’s easy to sympathize/empathize with him because the whole ghost whispering thing was just the hand he was dealt in life, a hand that he would rather keep hidden despite the fact that everyone already knows about it. In a nutshell, the kid’s misunderstood, he can’t help who he is, and since everyone else is too caught up in their prejudices, they can’t see Norman as anything but a freak. I think everyone’s felt like Norman at some point or other, and I love the way everyone else develops around him in turn. Even the most minor of characters are flat-out great, and if The Goonies had had characters like these, I would totally like The Goonies. Please don’t hold that one against me. It just wasn’t my thing.
Anyway, time to lighten up the mood here because ParaNorman is also hilarious. Already mentioned that, but since hilarious PG movies are about as rare as a blue duck, it bears repeating. I’m 25, my brother’s almost ten, we saw this in an empty theater, and I completely drowned him out. For the record, he was laughing a lot. As I’m sure you know, it ain’t easy finding a movie where the laughs keep coming regardless of how old the audience is. So, yeah; hat’s off to Paranorman.
Now that I’ve avoided the obvious for this long, let’s get down to brass tax and talk about how gorgeous this thing is.
From the way Norman’s hair keeps reverting back to that Wayne Static look, to the outrageously curvy, anatomically impossible character models that synch up perfectly with the personalities associated, this sucker is a treat to behold. Just incredible how much character and personality went into every last detail of this movie, and it only gets more impressive as the story progresses. There’s just something about claymation, something very old school and vibrant about it that’s hard to find in other mediums. Not that I have anything against computer-animated or hand-drawn movies (save all those so-real-it’s-creepy CG movies that Robert Zemeckis won’t stop making), but clay is something else. As great as the gang at Aardman Animation is, they certainly have some friendly competition going for ’em.
Worth it just for the climax alone. Absolutely stunning.
Plus, it’s got a fantastic little score that roped me in and started working those heartstrings real early on, and a killer cast that made me smile like a doofus once I started matching names to voices. Every one of ’em is top notch, but big ups to whoever pegged Casey Affleck to voice the dimwitted, hunky jock of the group. Wouldn’t have been my first pick, but, boy, did he work like gangbusters.
Aside from the hundred different ways that ParaNorman surprised the pants off me, what truly sets it apart is that it tried something new and came out on top. Up until now, the only lessons I ever learned from zombie movies were to book it to the mall and aim for the head. Not the worst advice in the world, but, for a genre that tends to wade in the shallow end, it’s pretty amazing how deep this one went. There is truly more than one way to skin a cat, folks, and ParaNorman did just that. If I didn’t have a nine-year-old to tag along with, this would have been a pretty hard sell. I’m guessing the same is probably true for a lot of the adults reading this. However, if there’s anything we’ve learned today, boys and girls, it’s that preconceptions are for suckers. Somehow, someway, I loved ParaNorman, and if my reputation counts for anything these days, I’d risk it on this.