Paranorman Review

Maya Barany, writer


Horror as a genre is a smart one, and its success depends on involvement. The audience is meant to jump at the scare and feel the same fear as the characters. It makes sense that horror is a genre for Halloween, but quite simply, I don’t like it – at least not all the time. Getting too roped into horror movies is tiring, and I start picturing it and looking at it like real life. For anyone looking for a non-horror Halloween film, the stop motion film ParaNorman is, without question, the best and most underrated movie to watch this Halloween.  

This is one of the few movies this decade that manages an unrealistic setting and unashamed trope-based characters with class. Set in Salem, middle school aged kids must repair the past of the Salem Witch Trials. There’s the cheerleader sister voiced perfectly by Anna Kendrick, the brooding protagonist Norman (Kody Smit), and the classic school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). The voice acting and clichés they play is as smart as it is funny 

Realism is disappointing. Realistic characters have so many opportunities to fail. One line of botched dialogue, one annoying decision to walk down a dark hall followed by a pause of dramatic music and the audience starts asking the question that ruins countless horror movies: “Why did they do that?” Directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell completely skip that possibility, instead they sidestep this common error with fantasy and invention. ParaNorman does an excellent job of leaving something to get attached to without being realistic at all.  It keeps a basic storyline together with a bit of clay brains and a witch’s curse. Later, the movie is truly complete with a wholesome and sophisticated theme. 

In the beginning of the film, Norman walks to school, greeting ghosts from different eras on his way. The scene is striking. He asks, “How’s it hanging?” to the ghost in a tree. This scene makes it clear for the first time: the smaller studio Laika challenges the giants of Disney and Pixar. It is lush with details, grime, and style, reminiscent of Corpse Bride and Coraline but with a rugged touch of forest green and muted orange sunsets. The clothes look lived-in, hair messy, with more than enough pathos in the story to get you through the 90 minutes 

The plot does not hide behind the animation, but for those who are shy to watch a PG movie, eye candy is a good place to start. CGI is a never-ending competition but can still appear infamously shimmery and fake. Puppets of the eighties look hollow, rubbery, and odd. Claymation specializes in the blend between the two, and Laika never sacrifices quality or time. Chris Butler and the art team of 320 people worked for over three years to craft this groundbreaking visual masterpiece  

An hour and a half later, the movie ends with a neatly wrapped story. There are no sequel gimmicks, no unclear sub plots at the end. It is a movie that can stand alone as the best one of the best festive movies for all ages. Hopefully, Netflix’s addition of this film will help it get the recognition that it deserved years 8 years ago. 

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