ParaNorman: Laika Breaks Into Pixar’s League   1 comment

“What have we become?” – Jasper
“We’ve given the word ‘mob’ a bad name.” – Dr. Hibbert

Top Line: Far better than last year’s underwhelming Super 8, ParaNorman is a worthy successor to those great 1980s movies where gangs of kids solve supernatural problems (e.g. Goonies, Monster Squad, and the one with the bulbous headed alien).  It’s inventive, beautifully animated, funny for kids and adults, and has the kind of heart and message that kids’ll eat up and adults won’t think is too cheesy. 

Who (probably) should see this movie: Anyone who saw Coraline, animation and stop motion fans generally, eight and nine-year-old kids of all ages. 

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Strict Christian parents, people who hate animated film. 

Box Score:

Runtime: 1h:33m – And not a dull moment. 
Rated: PG – This movie is about the limit of what you can get away with in PG, and excellent for being so.  There are a couple of things that might be scary for your average six-year-old or younger, but the movie is more exciting than frightening.  There are some surprisingly raunchy jokes, but they’ll sail way over the head of the kids (and probably a few teenagers too). 

Should Be Rated: PG-8

Three Stars:

  1. Kodi Smit-McPhee – Plucky Hero Kid:
    The kid from The Road deserves the lead here.  He plays it heroic while still believably childlike.
  2. Tucker Albrizzi – Fat Sidekick Kid:
    Like all 1980s kid movies, this one has a sweet and brave fat kid sidekick.  Played and written well.
  3. Jodelle Ferland – Mysterious Girl:
    The youths rule this movie movie, including those who only have small parts.
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +3 (The 3-D isn’t a gimmick and adds to a lot of scenes.  Since 3-D TVs still suck, this’ll be your last chance for a while to see it the way it was meant to be seen)
  • +1 (Kids movies that don’t patronize their intended audience are few are far between)
  • -1 (3-D TVs won’t always suck, though, and this movie should age extremely well)

Final Score: 5

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +3 (Just a flat out good movie from start to finish)
  • +1 (Seriously, it’s funny, action packed, scary when it wants to be, and a lot of fun)
  • -2 (It lacks the marketing brutality of Happy Meal toys, video games, and the like that get behind bigger, franchise-by-design movies, so it’s unlikely that it’ll become something little kids will demand of their parents over and over and over and over and over . . .)

Final Score: 7

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (Anna Kendrick breathes a lot of life into a stereotypical teenage girl part)
  • +1 (Hanna Noyes (nerdy smart girl), Jodelle Ferland (see above), and Elaine Stritch (dead grandma) all do great work)
  • -3 (Sadly, they are also stuck in decidedly secondary parts)

Final Score: 4

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • Chris Butler:
    First time in the big chair, but he was the “storyboard supervisor” on the outstanding Coraline (2009).
  • Sam Fell:
    Also directed The Tale of Despereaux (2008) and Flushed Away (2006).

Writers:

  • Chris Butler:
    Also his first time behind the keyboard.

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 85% Top Critics: 81% Audience: 76%

Notes:

  • The least surprising thing I learned from the Wikipedia article was that “ParaNorman was conceived in the 1980s for Disney, but was turned down”.  Like those very durable films I mentioned in the opening, this is a particularly well executed version of the “bunch of kids band together to save the day” movie.  They have adventures, they grow as characters, they face danger with humor and courage, but they’re still recognizably children. 
  • The movie is agreeably childlike in its perspective.  For example, when the old ghost played by John Goodman needs to get our plucky young hero to agree to fulfill his destiny, he says, “Swear?”, to which the kid replies, confused, “You mean like the F-word?”.  Too many movies with kid characters write them as adults these days (looking at you, Super 8).  The kids in ParaNorman feel like kids.
  • The kids run the show in ParaNorman, but Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Anna Kendrick, and Casey Affleck round out the crew as the teenage comic relief very well. 
  • Like several classic horror movies, the mob (and by extension the grown ups who comprise it) is the real villain here. 
  • Always nice to see a movie that doesn’t have a cheap cell phone scene where signal gets lost and/or batteries mysteriously die.   
  • The animation is gorgeous without being as unnecessarily shiny as so many CG kids films are these days.  The stop motion and computers compliment each other beautifully. 
  • The movie takes inspiration from various pop culture sources, but it doesn’t get overly self conscious by constantly cramming references into your eyeballs.  It has an unobtrusive level of self awareness about how well this kind of story has been told before, so, for instance, I counted two Scooby Doo jokes, both of which were quick and subtle.
  • There’s a surprisingly clean masturbation joke.  No shit.
  • There’s a quick animatic after the (very brief) closing credits that shows you a little of how they animated everything.
  • They really stick the ending.  It’s fantastic. 

Bottom Line: There is a lot to like in ParaNorman and very little to dislike.  The story is engaging, original and fits together like a Swiss watch; the acting is all first rate; and the animation, like Coraline before it, is just flat out awesome.  The 3-D effects aren’t overused (I can think of only one time when stuff seemed to fly at the screen unnecessarily), and add genuine depth to scenes and faces. 

As a studio, Laika isn’t off to the megabucks start that Pixar had with Toy Story and A Bug’s Life, but with Coraline and now ParaNorman, its films are every bit as cutting edge and endearing.  Perhaps best of all, none of ParaNorman feels like it’s being done only for a paycheck.  People cared about this movie long after they left the office each night.  Let’s hope they keep it up. 

Suggested Alternate Viewing:

Coraline (2009) – If you haven’s seen this, watch it.  If you like it, and/or your kids like it, you’ll probably like ParaNorman as well.

The Monster Squad (1987) – Has aged surprisingly well, and follows much of the same path as ParaNorman

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before ParaNorman:

THE HOBBIT Trailer HD – Yes, yes, we know already.  Why do they even bother to market movies like this?  It’s going to garner so much free press when it gets released that ads for it seem like bribery.

Rise of the Guardians: Official Trailer 2 – This doesn’t look great or anything, but far worse looking holiday movies come out around Thanksgiving most years. 

Frankenweenie Trailer – There was actually a Frankenweenie “turn off your cell phones” message after the regular one from the theater.  I wonder what that cost Disney?

Despicable Me 2 – Feh.

Posted August 17, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Box Score Cinema, The Simpsons

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One response to “ParaNorman: Laika Breaks Into Pixar’s League

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  1. Can’t wait until this comes out in the UK.

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