Friday, December 21, 2012

Technically Intriguing, ParaNorman Still Falls Down On The Merits.

The Good: Most of the effects, Moments of character, Most of the voice acting
The Bad: Does not know who its audience is, Boring plot progression, Most of the characters archetypes instead of individuals.
The Basics: Quite a letdown for those looking for fun or original, ParaNorman stalls.

It’s a rare thing that my wife and I agree on the state of a movie originally geared toward children. So, when – halfway through our screening of ParaNorman on DVD – she turned to me and said, “I’m done. This movie is not as good as the previews made it look,” I completely understood. I realized I had not actually seen any of the previews for ParaNorman, though I heard many times how reminiscent the film was of Coraline (reviewed here!), and I did not so much “miss it” when it was in theaters as I prioritized other films at the time.

ParaNorman looks like Coraline, but feels like a horror film that ought to be well beyond a PG rating. In fact, the way most of the characters are archetypes – jock, ditzy blonde, bully, fat sidekick - as opposed to strong individuals, makes ParaNorman seem like the average slasher film. In many ways, ParaNorman is The Ring (reviewed here!) or one of the other modern “somebody died horribly and there’s a curse that must be broken by love and understanding” type stories . . . dressed up with a Claymation-style covering.

In Blithe Hollow, a New England town reminiscent of Salem, where seven prominent community members put a girl to death for being a witch in colonial times, there now lives Norman. Norman is a middle school student who is bullied by everyone, save the other bullying victim, Neil. Norman and Neil bond over the fact that Norman can see and speak to the dead and in that capacity, he brings Neil some comfort by bringing him to spend time with his dead dog’s ghost. Norman is a pariah and an embarrassment to his family, most notably, his older sister.

But when Norman’s Uncle Prenderghast dies, his ghost informs Norman that he must take a book from his corpse, go to the witch’s grave and read it before sundown, lest the dead start walking. Prevented by the bullying actions of Alvin, Norman fails and seven zombies rise to torment the citizens of Blithe Hollow. But, when the undead judge realizes Norman can communicate with them, he tries to guide Norman to the way to save the town . . . and the true culprit behind the paranormal issues in Blithe Hollow!

ParaNorman looks like it might be fun, whatwith the animation style, bright colors and initially humorous opening to the film which starts with a parody of classic b-rate zombie movies, but it quickly descends into something astonishingly dark and violent for children and equally boring for adults. I went into watching ParaNorman excited, but as the film plodded toward the dead eventually rising and then the protracted fleeing and mayhem that followed the resurrection of the seven cursed people, I actually found myself dozing off. ParaNorman seems like it was a remarkably limited idea based on a few clever notions and lines writer and co-director Chris Butler had that then get stretched into a full film.

On the character front, Norman’s ability is one that has been seen in numerous films and television series’, but ParaNorman does nothing new or special with the idea of being able to communicate with the dead. Instead, Norman stumbles around unremarkably until those around him tell him all he needs to know. Unfortunately, the film is filled up with far less memorable characters, like Norman’s sister Courtney, who spends the time running from the same perils as Norman and hitting constantly on Neil’s older brother. The jock, Mitch, is pretty much a one-note joke until the last line when there comes a reversal that is utterly unremarkable for the character. Stacking the film to seem like a children’s movie, Norman is hounded by his parents and adults around town while he and his kid friends manage to work together to eventually save the day.

Unfortunately, many of the images, themes, and even lines are presented in a way that seems much more geared to adults. My wife, who understands children much more than I do, kept saying, “How would this not scare the heck out of kids?!” and “I can’t believe they can say that in a ‘PG’ movie!” I tend to agree. Much of the direction of ParaNorman is geared toward being scary in a way that does make the film inappropriate for young children. And also in the camp of this is intended as an adult film, I swear the musical cues near the climax of the film came from The Fountain (reviewed here!).

The voice acting in ParaNorman is adequate, though unextraordinary. John Goodman’s time in the film it way too short and Anna Kendrick sounds like Krysten Ritter in ParaNorman. On DVD, ParaNorman includes a commentary track, featurettes on the making of the film and animatics, which is pretty much what one would expect from an animated film’s features.

For other animated films, please visit my reviews of:
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Wonder Woman


For other movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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