Sunday, August 19, 2012

"Norman" not the Normal Kiddie-Fare

It's been three years since Coraline and seven years since Corpse Bride, so the anticipation for another clay animation film from Laika Entertainment could only be quenched by a filmmaker who worked on the studio's two previous films. Director and writer Chris Butler manages to obtain the same level of aesthetic "aaw" with the consistent theme of paranormal-fantasy, yet also maintains a youthful and inspirational story telling.

Norman, voiced perfectly by Kodi Smit-McPhee, is not you're average kid, as the title implies. He speaks to the dead and is consequently ostracized by kids at school and chastised by his family. He has dreams of being normal and his vulnerable and gentle nature make it so easy to connect to him it takes no time at all to become invested in the film's abnormal, yet shy protagonist. Norman learns there is a curse placed upon his Salem-like town and his drifter-uncle (John Goodman) thrusts upon him the responsibility of saving its citizens from a restless witch.

The film achieves its quota of paranormal characters and maintains the consistent theme set precedent by Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas of fantasy, thriller and kid-friendly scary. There's ghosts, zombies and witches, but what is truly relative to the horror-genre are the references only the adults will get. Speaking of--this is no Disney film, a few no-no words, sexual innuendo's and the overall theme of mortality, lets you know Butler was aware he was telling this story to adults also (in which I heartily say thank you). The kids will laugh at the obvious gags and grotesque-nature of watching zombie-limbs take on a character of their own and parents will appreciate the dialogue and homages to horror films they most likely watched growing up and both will probably marvel at the visual achievement in front of them.

It goes without saying clay-animation films are perhaps the most labor-intensive and tedious films to make, so it's no wonder they are also some of the most visually striking films to watch. Norman's world is full of these filmic moments and spectacles. The ghosts he sees float about breathlessly across the screen, his premonition's are saturated with dark, ominous colors and the scenes involving the witch? Well, they're just breathtaking. But the real achievement here is the amount of emotion conveyed by these clay characters. Who would have thought a zombie could not only communicate emotion but appear sympathetic? A huge amount of credit must be given to the entire animation department, as well as the visual effects team.

Also, worth mentioning is a score by Jon Brion, who's probably more known for working with Paul Thomas Anderson and his one-man band (he's really good, watch) so it was nice to see him expand into a larger studio production. I also found moments in his score similar to Clint Mansell's work on The Fountain (maybe, it's just me?)

Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin and Alex Borsten round out a well-casted voice cast.

I remember watching Burton's Nightmare when I was four (I honestly do) and still watch these films, because they embody a certain spirit (no pun intended), a charm if you will of enchanting us, this feeling of temporary zeal, that isn't so temporary because it never leaves us. It enriches us in our youth and stays throughout our adulthood, because it effortlessly taps into our mindset where magic is inspired and creativity is sparked. Okay, enough of me recollecting my childhood memories. ParaNorman's success is partially due to its universal theme of feeling like a recluse and our often inability to connect with those around us; it achieves this in a humorous and visually pleasing manner that makes us realize that growing up takes none of the magic away from watching it.

Rating: B+

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