ParaNorman isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch and the story isn’t all that interesting, at least in the middle part, but one can’t help but admire the stop-motion technique and just what’s involved to make a 90-minute feature film. Along with the voice casting, the movie is absolutely fantastic to look at.
Genre(s): Comedy, Fantasy
Universal | PG – 93 min. – $49.98 | November 27, 2012
Directed by: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Writer(s): Chris Butler (written by)
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Bernard Hill
Theatrical Release Date: August 17, 2012
Features: Commentary, Featurettes, DVD Copy, Digital Copy, UltraViolet
Number of Discs: 2
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), Spanish (DTS 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Disc Size: 43.4 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Region(s): A, B, C
THE MOVIE – 3.5/5
ParaNorman is the rare theatrical stop-motion feature, following in the footsteps of Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Chicken Run and, most recently, Caroline. In one sense, it’s hard not to appreciate this film and admire what the filmmakers and crew did but on the other, the story is half-baked and not quite as clever as it thinks it is.
The story centers on awkward teenager Norman Babcock (voiced by KODI SMIT-MCPHEE), a young boy who has the gift to see those who have passed on but still have unfinished business, one such person is his grandmother. However, not everybody believes or appreciates his gift and that includes his overwhelming father (JEFF GARLIN) and his bratty sister, Courtney (ANNA KENDRICK), and while his mom (LESLIE MANN) isn’t as dismissive, she doesn’t exactly support him either. Of course, it doesn’t help that her brother, Norman’s Uncle Penderghast (JOHN GOODMAN), also has this gift and has for some reason set his sights on Norman.
Meanwhile, Norman is the butt of jokes in school and targeted by the class bully for being a weirdo, though he does get befriended by another outcast named Neil (TUCKER ALBRIZZI), a fat kid who is the target of the bullies. During a play rehearsal, Norman begins seeing things and even gets transported into the woods, hunted down by villagers. He doesn’t know what this means but soon enough Mr. Penderghast tracks Norman down and explains the situation: every year, a person with the ability to speak to ghosts must go to the grave of a witch and read from a book otherwise this witch, and seven other spirits, will rise up and terrorize the town, which has a deep-seeded and dark past.
Penderghast is desperate to pass this tradition on to Norman because he knows his time is coming to an end and sure enough, before he fully explains it to Norman, he croaks. Even when buying the legend, the problem is Norman has no idea where the witch’s grave is because the townsfolk buried her in an unmarked area. Norman must band together with others – including new best friend Neil, Neil’s brother, Mitch (CASEY AFFLECK), the class bully Alvin (CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE) and Courtney – before it’s too late and break the curse that has plagued the town once and for all.
ParaNorman on a presentation front, is incredibly impressive especially considering the stop-motion technique which, to me anyway, is tedious and any mistake in making the model, it’s quite the setback. So, on that I have nothing but high praise. Where the film does falter is with the story which, while unique and original (not entirely common in today’s cinema), isn’t all that interesting. There was a certain point, and it was early on, I kind of lost my attention in the plot, and in turn the characters, that it took some time to get back in, though it eventually did by the finale which, albeit a letdown, had some nice emotion at the core.
The film was directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell, the former marking his directorial debut and the latter previously helmed a few animated and stop-motion features including 2006’s Flushed Away; for his part, Butler worked on the Tim Burton produced Coraline. Even if the script, also by Butler, wasn’t as good as it could have been, one still can’t help but admire what they – along with their army of sculptors and other crew members – accomplished as it is truly a beautiful movie to look at.
With regard to the voice talent, I liked that they cast actors not based on star power but rather whether they fit the part. The film has quite a few young and potential on-the-rise actors including Australian-born Kodi Smit-McPhee who was a true surprise in 2010’s Let Me In; Anna Kendrick (End of Watch) is great in the bratty role; an almost unrecognizable Casey Affleck in the jock part; John Goodman appears as the gnarly Mr. Penderghast; and finally Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann are perfect in the bickering parental unit.
Despite any problems the script might have, there’s no denying there is something special about ParaNorman due to the stop-motion animation that makes it stand out from computer animation and worth watching at least once. If you enjoyed Caroline, then this will also be right up your alley.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 4.0/5
This two-disc set comes with a lenticular slip cover. Inside are codes for both the standard Digital Copy and UltraViolet plus the retail DVD Copy.
Audio Commentary – Writer/Co-Director Chris Butler and Co-Director Sam Fell provide an upbeat and informative track chatting about how the film came about, working with stop-motion and other interesting aspects.
Preliminary Animatic Sequences (9:09; HD) – There are three sequences included and have an optional commentary with Butler and Fell. None of these are particularly interesting but playing it with the commentary makes it a tad better to get through.
Peering Through the Veil: Behind the Scenes of ParaNorman (40:49; HD) – This is a collection of 9 featurettes all covering various aspects of making the film. It’s nice to have them together with a “Play All” option as you get an inside look at how the stop-motion film was accomplished. I don’t normally say this, but if you’re a fan, it’s well worth watching.
Featurettes (14:53; HD) – Under this heading, there are 7 featurettes covering even more aspects of the filmmaking process, though these are shorter and made more as an advertising tool.
VIDEO – 4.75/5
Universal Studios releases ParaNorman on Blu-ray with a rich 1080p high-definition transfer. Presented in its original 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio, the colors on the movie are bright and show off nicely on the smaller screen. The detail levels are also great and I never noticed any artifacting or banding. The 3D version, which is on the same disc, provides an excellent eye-popping experience with incredible depth and only a minimal amount of ghosting.
AUDIO – 4.5/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track provides for an enthralling home theater experience showcasing a nice soundtrack and score. The dialogue levels sound good and mainly make use of the center channel while the surrounds help encase the various action elements which are deep and impactful.
OVERALL – 3.75/5
Overall, ParaNorman isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch and the story isn’t all that interesting, at least in the middle part, but one can’t help but admire the stop-motion technique and just what’s involved to make a 90-minute feature film. Along with the voice casting, the movie is absolutely fantastic to look at. The Blu-ray offers up excellent audio/video transfers and a solid selection of special features making this set worth picking purchasing.