ParaNorman is a 3D stop motion zombie horror comedy by Laika, the makers of the critically acclaimed Coraline. Their latest offering has all the elements of classic horror genre films: zombies, of course, and lots of ghosts and ghouls – as well as a witch, and an ancient evil curse which incites a stereotypical angry mob of villagers. However, all of these stock elements are given a dramatic twist of animation humour and style, transforming generic themes into a piece of family entertainment suitable for kids of all ages. The film’s humour is cleverly mixed with action and suspense, and there are plenty of those wonderful movie moments that provoke a collective gasp from an audience that are already on the edge of their seats. Watch out, for example, when Norman is exploring his uncle’s darkened house with the light from his mobile phone.
The humour in ParaNorman also references classic horror conventions takes, such as the theme tune to Halloween, which is heard on a ring tone, the classic hockey mask, worn by the Jason X character in Friday the 13th series, and many more references for the astute horror film buff. This gives the film an added layer of interest for parents or grandparents who might just be expecting to sit through another children’s movie.. It might be argued that some of the visual gags and near slapstick antics are verging on the clichéd, but who can argue with the laughter of an engaged audience?
The story is centred on Norman Badcock, a school boy who speaks to the dead, and his friend Neil Downe, an overweight kid, who, like Norman, is ostracised and bullied at school for being different from the norm. No one takes Norman’s claims of speaking to the dead seriously, except Neil. Instead, he is ridiculed and bullied. When Norman is first warned by his estranged uncle about the witches curse, he ignores the warning – but later a ghostly visit from a recently deceased uncle, Mr Prenderghast (voiced by John Goodman), forces Norman to take the warning seriously. Then charged with the task of breaking the curse he must, before midnight, read a fairy tale from an ancient book at the grave side of the witch.
Inevitably, the plot thickens with second act complications as Norman tries to break the curse. The ensuing plot mayhem seems laboured and less than convincing. ParaNorman lacks the quirky originality of Neil Gaiman’s script for Coraline but makes up for this shortcoming, to some degree, with a lively cast of characters who entertain the audience with brilliantly animated performances.
The sophisticated animation in ParaNorman (untypical in stop motion) suggests advances in animation production that could rival the big animation studios. With Coraline, the Liaka company set the benchmark for feature stop motion animation; with ParaNorman, they have surpassed themselves. The sophisticated range of facial animation in ParaNorman is impressive, particularly considering the large cast of unique characters. And the character designs are astonishingly diverse, with brilliant examples of extreme character design, such as the brilliantly gruesome zombies and ghosts.
The set designs are equally impressive. The hand crafted environments have a quirky “lived in” quality that adds to the atmosphere of the story, which is further enhanced by some spectacular spectral special effects and dramatic lighting techniques, for example, the lighting in the village street scenes conveys a mood and sense of place very well.
ParaNorman has taken the stop motion animated feature to a new level and will give the competition a run for its money. A delightful entertainment for kids of all ages.