There was a time when I was in love with stop motion animation. It was the era of Gumby, Rudolph: the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Year Without A Santa Claus. However, over the past two decades, CG has slowly nudged stop motion out of mainstream family entertainment.
When you think of the top animated movies of 2012, Brave or Wreck-it Ralph probably come to mind. Superb CG and the Disney distribution label made these films household names. Yet, in the trenches of cinema, where only the most audacious viewers dare to go, another feature was the unsung animated gem of the year. Laika’s ParaNorman coupled a delightful voice cast with a layered story that was chock full of spooky twists. This thrilling adventure is filled with wonderful, hand-made character models and smart comedy. Thanks to the team at Laika, the beating heart of stop motion lives on.
EDITOR’S PICK: ParaNorman – Stop Motion with a Whole Lot of Ghoulish Heart
ParaNorman centers on a young boy, named Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee). Much like many children or adolescents, he feels estranged from his family and peers. However, unlike most children, Norman is the oddball out because he has the very real power to see and speak with the dead. When the dead start to rise, like Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead, Norman is the only person who can save the day.
Right away, this premise probably signaled red flags with adults who were looking for more family friendly movies to see with their children. While there aren’t any gruesome deaths in this film, zombie limbs do get severed. Also, the underlying witchcraft tale delves into the unnerving part of colonial history that Arthur Miller explored in The Crucible.
The well-rounded voice cast does a terrific job of capturing small town paranoia. Jeff Garlin voices Norman’s dad, a working class father who just wants his son to be normal. Anna Kendrick voices Norman’s sister, a character who starts off with the blond cheerleader stereotype then grows into something much more once her brother is in danger. Her bubbly personality is offset by her love interest, Mitch, who is deadpan voiced by Casey Affleck. Tucker Albrizzi does a great job as Norman’s endearing outcast friend, Neil, while Christopher Mintz-Plasse shows us he can play the role of an animated bully just as well as an awkward live-action teen. The dynamic John Goodman lends his talent to voicing the town crazy, Mr. Prenderghast.
The Blu-ray special features are abundantly packed with special features. Seven feautrettes explore the making of ParaNorman as well as additional behind-the-scenes footage. These include detailed footage of how each character model was made and how most of the complex scenes were animated. Aspiring stop-motion animators would do well to use this as a roadmap in creating their own stop-motion features.
ParaNorman quite possibly ranks up there as one of the best stop motion features to date. This spirited tale of undead wonder and small town paranoia will surely be a staple Halloween film for year’s to come.