I was surprised about how much I enjoyed Coraline (2009). It was gratifying to see a different artistic medium in film, and to see it done well. Laika is the company behind Coraline and ParaNorman, their newest film. While not done by the same director as Coraline (Henry Sellick), Sam Fell and Chris Bulter execute an enjoyable and clear story, with excellent special effects and top motion.
Norman (Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee) can see and talk dead people. And they talk aback to him. While he tries to embrace his ability, he is taunted and misunderstood by the people around him. His father (Jeff Garlin) finds it disturbing, his sister (Anna Kendrick) doesn't care and he is ostracised by the kids in his school. When his strange kooky uncle (John Goodman) reappears in his life, he is tasked with keeping a mythical undead curse at bay. However, before he can comprehend his uncle's jumbled instructions, the curse comes true and the city is overrun by seven zombies and the spirit of a terrifyingly animated witch (Jodelle Ferland) from Crucible times. Norman must investigate the zombies and the witch to overcome the deadly curse.
Stop motion has to be the most underrated artistic medium of movies. While we focus on the beauty and technicality of tradition and computer animation, we miss the intricacy and simplicity of plasticine. Coraline, for me, proved that there was more to this medium than what Wallace and Gromit puts forward. ParaNorman simply underlines that whatever computer animation can do, stop motion can do it just as well.
Kodi Smit-McPhee has his first go at animation in his career. McPhee uses what teenage awkwardness he has gathered over the past 5 years, and compresses it into 90 minutes of wonderful acting. Jeff Garlin and John Goodman are to fine to watch. Or is it listen to? The surprise was Casey Affleck, who pops up as homosexual jock (not even kidding) Mitch. I wasn't aware that I was listening to him until I looked at the credits.
ParaNorman benefits from a very strong story, coupled with the clear imbedded message; don't bully. Creatively the film undertakes many role reversals and twists, which is probably its strongest element. These are done with an excellent amount of skill, to make them seem natural and believable. While this message is clear, my only criticism is that the message is entirely forced, if bullied onto the audience.
This movie probably won't be a stand out this summer. But it really should be. It already earns points from me for being an original screenplay, something that has been rare for films released in 2012/13. Its creative use of narrative and character development is better than any other kid's film I have seen in 2012. Conclusion; decently scary and excellently entertaining for a 90 minute, stop motion animation.