December 2, 2012

Blu-ray Review: ParaNorman

For years it seemed like Tim Burton was the only filmmaker taking chances by infusing horror into the family friendly genre of animation with the likes of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Then Henry Selick and Neil Gaiman gave us Coraline, which is a wonderful horror movie for kids, beautiful to watch, cleverly told, and just a touch scary. Now we have some new players in the game and a wonderful new movie. The movie is ParaNorman and the players are Chris Butler and Sam Fell, they have delivered delightful film and given us another movie that successfully brings horror into the world of animation.

ParaNorman takes a cue from The Sixth Sense and runs in a completely different direction. At the center of our tale is Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee). He is an outcast, bullied at school and misunderstood by his parents. The young boy has a talent, one that helps paint him as the outcast, he sees dead people and regularly has conversations with them. Norman is perfectly at ease with seeing and conversing with the dead, even if no one else believes him.

Now, while talking to the dead is the seed of the story, it is just one piece of the whole. Norman lives in a town, which is a lot like Salem, MA, and this town has lived under a witch's curse for centuries. In short order, it duty falls on Norman to step up and save the town from the curse and a gaggle of zombies when the crazy old bum Mr. Penderghast (John Goodman) imparts the knowledge onto the youngster and then passes on. Along for the ride are Norman's shallow older sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), the school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), fellow outcast Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), and his older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck).

It is quite am exciting film filled with action, chases, zombie invasions, and plenty of creepiness, while also having plenty of heart. ParaNorman brings creepy, sweet, smart, scary, and funny all together in one package. It is certainly family friendly, but at the same time, it does not shy away from being a bit edgy and frightening, pushing the limits of the PG rating. Don't let this scare you off from showing to children, I believe all but the youngest will by fascinated by it.

ParaNorman is a really wonderful film that is rather topical and certainly has something to say. It explores the idea of bullying and how people, mainly adults, can be rather ugly when faced with things they do not understand. The tale cuts through everything and proves to be very touching, surprisingly effective, and quite funny.

I went into this movie knowing that I was going to like it. Perhaps that gave me a predisposition to really liking it, but I honestly feel this stands up as a great movie on its own even without my predispositions. There is a very human quality to it that makes the whole thing terribly endearing. The characters have a humanity about them that is more apparent than any number of live action films.

ParaNorman is a movie that rewards multiple viewings. Besides the wonderful characters and story, the animation is fantastic, the character designs are unique and well worth taking the time to actually look at. To go a step further, the movie is littered with horror movie references, so if you like horror, be sure to keep your eyes open. You don't have to wait long, the opening sequence drops you right into horror homage. You see, the movie opens with Norman watching an old school B-horror movie, completely with print damage, bad acting, the whole nine yards, it helps set the tone for everything that is to come and will surely be appreciated by the horror fan in all of us.

Audio/Video. The movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.4:1. This high definition transfer is pretty stunning, I am hard pressed to find fault with it. The detail is all there, fine textures in he clothing, blades of grass, the decomposing corpses, you see everything. The movie was shot using Canon EOS 5D Mark II SLR cameras, the result is a sight to behold. Colors are sharp, blacks are solid, and every last detail is there to be seen.

The audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. It really is the sonic equivalent of the great video presentation. It is not exactly a window rattling affair, but the sound will envelop you. Wind swirls through the surrounds as ghastly ghouls drag themselves through the sound field. Jon Brion's score is represented very nicely and dialogue is always clear.

  • Commentary. The track features writer/director Chris Butler and director Sam Fell. It is a wonderful track that sees the two taking you behind the scenes of virtually every aspect of the film. It is very informative and fun to listen.
  • Peering through the Veil. This is collection of featurettes that are wonderfully detailed and take you into many aspects of the film. In essence, they pull back the curtain and show you some of the multitude of techniques used to create the characters and animations, not to mention looking at the work done by the voice actors.
  • Additional Featurettes. These are exclusive to the Blu-ray edition and offer even more looks at the production of the film.
  • Preliminary Animatic Sequences. This is a few minutes of early storyboards and voice work.
Bottomline. This is a wonderful movie from start to finish and one of, of not the, most ambitious stop motion film yet. I love how it is unabashedly family friendly, yet does not soften the edges, it doesn't whitewash things. This is a movie for kids that is decidedly not Disney. It is funny, smart, and fresh. Do yourself a favor and take trip into Norman's world.

Highly Recommended.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ParaNorman on Blogcritics.

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