‘ParaNorman’ the latest animation by Laika Inc., the studio behind 2009’s ‘Coraline’, is a magnificent blend of beautiful animation, intelligently scripted dialogue, and carries just enough sophistication to keep it fresh for an adult audience. Co-directed by Sam Fell, whose previous projects include Aardman and DreamWorks’s ‘Flushed Away’, and first time director Chris Butler, the film is an enjoyable homage to the horror genre that manages to transcend its target audience in favour of a broader appeal.
One of the many things that the film has in its favour is its maturity, in part due to the intelligence of the writing. An example of this within the film is in the way Norman’s adolescent isolation is portrayed. This portrayal creates moments of genuine pathos that resonates with the audience, without feeling too clichéd or at all arbitrary to the plot, and is complimented perfectly throughout by the performances of the stellar voice cast. In fact, although the reasons behind Norman’s isolation may in fact be ludicrous or fantastical i.e.: his ability to talk to the dead, the film is triumphant in crafting an incredibly accurate representation of the often awkward, sometimes painful experience of high school for some students growing up. As well as this the film also explores, rather successively, the often-frayed relations between fathers and sons, represented here by the interactions between Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his disapproving father (Jeff Garlin), who often fails to understand his son and his evident preoccupation with the deceased.
However, alongside the mature themes of adolescent isolation and family relationships the film does also accomplish some moments of mild horror, as expected of a film so indebted to the zombie and horror films of the 1970’s. Such moments include, for example, the arrival of the witch’s curse, which, though not exactly terrifying, fills the audience with a sense of peril way beyond that of many other contemporary children’s films.
Another highlight of the film is the score by Jon Brion (Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) that helps set the tone perfectly throughout, with a mixture of autumnal tracks and delightful throwbacks to the zombie films of decades past. As well as this the performances of the ensemble cast, including John Goodman, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Anna Kendrick, and Casey Affleck, to name a few, are also worth noting, with each character being distinctive and injected with an abundance of personality.
Though it may be argued that ‘ParaNorman’ has perhaps gone unnoticed, partly as a result of being released alongside Tim Burton’s latest stop-motion feature ‘Frankenweenie’, the film is definitely worth a look. ‘ParaNorman’ for a child audience is perfect, never belittling and often intelligent, and for the adult audience, and those that will inevitably watch the film alongside their children, there is enough to like and maintain an interest throughout its 92-minute running time.