[sorry it’s late folks! I was out of town and expected to be home Sunday night…instead, just got home now! -Craig]
Quick movie review this week of PARANORMAN, the second stop-motion-animated installment from the Portland, Oregon-based Laika studio (directed by writer Chris Butler and Sam Fell). The company is owned by Nike co-counder and chairman Phil Knight, so their motto may well be, “Just Animate It.” It’s a family-friendly story of an oddball kid who can see spirits and how he helps his town battle a witch’s curse and minor zombie invasion. Just Laika did with their quirky hit CORALINE a few years ago, the studio has created another solid entry in the stop-motion animation pantheon.
–The characters! Some could have been better or used more detail (the jock was a bit too “blocky” for my taste, some not quite human enough), but overall they’re brilliant. Norman, his sister and mother, his classmates and the zombies were done especially well.
–The expressions. Priceless in many scenes, and the conveyance of emotion was spot on.
–The gags. They were either clever, obvious, creative, unique, unexpected, brilliant, subtle, blatant, crude, spot-on or goofy, but most were funny. Some made me guffaw out loud (along with the little boy sitting in front of me, so either they transcend age barriers or I’m just a dopey kid at heart who’s easily amused.)
–The message. Some may find it a bit preachy or obvious, but both my wife and I liked it. A serious lesson presented in an entertaining way, and one not in most films of its type.
–The ending. No, I won’t spoil it. Though you kind of know if things will end well or badly from the get-go, the “how” of the climax was very different from what you’d usually expect. Refreshing in that way.
–The sister’s interaction with the jock character (brother of Norman’s fubsy pal Neil) is priceless, especially its conclusion.
–Jeff Garlin and John Goodman in well-fitting roles, and relative unknowns in the others. Glad to see they didn’t have to rely on “star power” like Pixar, Disney, Sony and others tend to do. Proof it’s the story and characters, NOT the star-rating of the voices that make a good animated film. It’s not the actors, it’s the ACTING.
–The button. Stay through the credits and you’ll be treated to a too-brief time-lapse sequence of the character model creation from start to finish (complete with “an ironic” ending).
–The 3-D. Obviously it was shot in 3-D unlike the usual live-action conversion (or current fad of “cash-in” animated versions). It was well-done (as also agreed the loud and obnoxious 20-somethings who sat behind us), but I think they could have done more with it. The advantages of animated 3-D, especially using actual 3-D models rather than pure CG, are abundant, and it just seemed like they didn’t take as much advantage of the format as they could have. (The trailer for DESPICABLE ME 2 did take full advantage of course). If you’re a big fan of 3-D generally, you’ll want to see this in that format. But otherwise, the movie will be just fine in 2-D.
–A little slower to develop than expected. And quieter. It’s not the action-horror-fest allured to in the previews.
–Not recommended for real little kids. They’ll get bored by the first half hour and possibly frightened by some of the more intense scary stuff later. (Though I should point out that if I saw this when I was nine or ten, I would’ve loved it!)
So, in my “ratings system” (See It Now, Own It, Rent It, Catch It or Skip It), I’d give it an “Own It” if the extras are plentiful and fun or at least a solid “Rent It.” While the big screen (and big sound) definitely adds to the effects, the only people who I think would really appreciate it that way would be those in the animation/storytelling business; or of course, the die-hard animation fans. There are a lot of gags you’ll want to either rewind and laugh at multiple times, scenes to pause to scour the background for more gags, and several shots to pause to marvel at the character construction, expressions, effects, and/or set design.
I should draw your attention to the current PARANORMAN exhibit now on display at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum! We went Saturday to see the “Sixty Years of MAD” and “Avengers Assemble!” exhibits (which will be reviewed in another blog) and were pleasantly treated to the one for this film, which has many rough character sketches showing the progression of design, some CG printouts and coolest of all, a display of various main character mouths used to form different phonetics. (I tried to take a photo but it’s not allowed.) On October 6, the display expands substantially. Check it out!
As always, let me know what YOU think in the Comments section.
P.S.: If you want a commission of any puppet, zombie, . Just ask Craig here!