Before heading to the cinema on an autumnal Sunday afternoon to see ParaNorman I had heard some very good things about the new stop motion animated movie from Laika Inc, so I was certainly looking forward to it.
It’s safe to say that an hour and a half later I was certainly not disappointed having very much enjoyed this tale of a young boy who can see and talk to ghosts.
Throughout there are two very striking things about this film and first up is the design.
Whereas some modern animation goes out of its way to be hyper-realistic and some tries to stick with a ‘traditional’ look but using modern technology, here we get a company making their own idiosyncratic style statement and continuing what they started with their version of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.
What is added to the mix here are many things referencing classic horror movie motifs, particularly the skewed angles of the early German expressionist horror, films like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, which instantly sets up that this is a film that knows its own genre.
This level of knowingness is what leads me to the second very striking thing, the sheer number of nods of references to ‘proper’ horror movies. Whether it’s the obvious moments such as the kid in the hockey mask, or the more general things I wonder if there is maybe too much of this in the film that would mean that while someone like me found of a lot of enjoyment in it, the actual target audience may well find it hard to engage with a lot of the goings on as homage seems to take a front seat.
While this story is nothing especially new, a witches curse and a misfit kid’s search for acceptance, while showing that being a misfit isn’t always a bad thing and that society should except people for who they are, it is told in a way that is witty and refreshing enough to not get boring, but, once again it is the visuals that really shine through and stick in the head.
Stop motion animation seems to be something that has fallen by the wayside with the development of the computer-generated stuff, but with the likes of Henry Sellick (The Nightmare Before Christmas), Tim Burton and these guys making their mark on the more traditional genre it still seems to have life in it – albeit in often more morbid or dark tinged tales… but that doesn’t seem to be a bad thing.
In the end I have to admit that I prefer ParaNorman to either The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride, as it just seems to have its heart in the right place in a way that the others don’t and is a one of the most generally entertaining movies I’ve watched in a long time.