The convergence of handcrafted, stop-motion artistry with the latest 3D technology is a beautiful thing to watch in ParaNorman, the second feature from the Oregon-based animation studio LAIKA. Yet, despite all the visual magic and impressive artwork by the many artists and technicians behind the movie, ParaNorman comes up surprisingly short in the area of imaginative storytelling.
Granted, ParaNorman does not have a classic children’s book by Neil Gaiman as its source material like the debut LAIKA feature film Coraline.
Instead, writer/director Chris Butler, a storyboard supervisor on Coraline and a storyboard artist on Corpse Bride, and Sam Fell, a stop-motion veteran who worked on the classic Aardman Animations TV series Rex the Runt as well as the Aardman Animations feature Flushed Away, gather all the childhood staples for their supernatural adventure ParaNorman including the school bully, the teen outcast, his nerd friend and his disinterested older sister.
The result is a movie that’s bold and distinctive in appearance but somewhat ordinary in terms of its grind house-inspired tale.
Norman (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee of Let The Right One In) is the teen male equivalent of the Ghost Whisperer, someone who sees and speaks with the dead and does not seem the least bothered by his talent. Sometimes, his ghostly encounters lead to problems like being late for school. Most of the time, Norman likes his ghostly connections like watches horror movies in the living room with his deceased grandmother (voice of Elaine Stritch) at his side.
Norman’s ghostly powers fit perfectly with his New England hometown of Blithe Hollow, which built a tourism industry around an infamous witch-hunt that took place 300 years ago. Unfortunately, a longstanding curse has come true and zombies attack Blithe Hollow
With the help of his older sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and fellow school outcast Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), Norman sets out to save his hometown from the witch’s curse and prove to his neighbors that talking to ghosts is not necessarily a bad thing.
Anna Kendrick has fun in her voice role as the disapproving sister and Kodi Smit-McPhee makes an adequate boy hero.
In the film’s best scene, Norman’s ghostly uncle visits him from the toilet in the school bathroom with hilarious results.
Unfortunately, when it comes to its action climax, ParaNorman delivers fewer laughs than expected.
Still, to the credit of Butler, Fell and the entire LAIKA team, one watches ParaNorman excited at the possibility of 3D stop-motion animation.
Frame by frame, there’s plenty to admire in ParaNorman. Hopefully, next time, the storytelling will match the wonder of the 3D stop-motion. When that happens, true magic is guaranteed.
Distributor: Focus Features
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch and John Goodman
Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Screenwriter: Chris Butler
Cinematographer: Tristan Oliver
Editor: Christopher Murrie
Producers: LAIKA Entertainment
Running Time: 92 minutes
Rating: Rated PG
Release Date: August 17, 2012