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Aug 17, 2012
08:04 AMTalk about Arts
Movie Review: ParaNorman
Films opening this weekend in Buffalo:
2016: Obama's America - Elmwood, Galleria, Quaker Regals
The Expendables 2 - Maple Ridge; Flix, Market Arcade Dipsons; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Quaker, Hollywood Regals; Transit Drive-In
Farewell, My Queen - Amherst Dipson
ParaNorman - Maple Ridge; Flix, Market Arcade Dipsons; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Quaker, Hollywood Regals; Transit Drive-In
The Odd Life of Timothy Green - Maple Ridge; Flix, McKinley Mall Dipsons; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Hollywood Regals
Sparkle - Maple Ridge; Flix, Market Arcade Dipsons; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Quaker, Hollywood Regals - REVIEW
LAIKA, Inc., the little studio with big dreams in Oregon, is officially more than a flash in the pan success story. Using a beacon in the stop-motion animation world like Henry Selick to adapt and direct Coraline showed the vision to take chances on darker material than most may want to expose their children to and they were rewarded for the challenge. For Chris Butler and Sam Fell, ParaNorman will be a coming out party to prove LAIKA has the staying power to compete with the big boys.
A storyboard artist on the aforementioned Coraline and Selick collaborator Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, Butler gets the chance to bring his imaginative town of Blithe Hallow to life. Co-directing with Fell—who helmed Flushed Away and The Tale of Despereaux—Butler's story exists in a darkly magical fantasy world similar to the studio's Oscar-nominated debut while possessing a welcome streak of whimsy to counter the not-so-kid-friendly zombies at its plot's back. Containing a sophistication rarely seen outside of Pixar, ParaNorman refuses to pander by instead providing the horror, suspense, and nightmarish visuals necessary when the vengeful acts of an angry, remorseless witch are put on display.
Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a loner geek not because he loves scary movies, but because he can talk to the dead. A casual morning shows the prevalence of ghosts not yet ready to move on or caught in stasis due to an abrupt demise in the boy's daily life as his passed grandma (Elaine Stritch) sits crocheting on the family couch while roadkill, deceased pets, and even gangsters literally swimming with the fishes litter the streets with cordial "Hellos."
So, when bullies like Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) or even his dad (Jeff Garlin) catch him talking to thin air, the giggling or embarrassment in response is unsurprising. Norman's true friends don't exist while the ones who should care and compassionately understand his eccentricities simply stand by as the world labels him a pariah.
Blithe Hallow isn't without its own proclivities or history of those with inhuman powers, though. Built upon a centuries-old curse of an executed witch (Jodelle Ferland), the town's shops are littered with Halloween-type decor to satisfy outside curiosity and give inhabitants a legacy to feed. More than a story for Mrs. Henscher (Alex Borstein) to lead students in a yearly performance, however, the curse itself is very real. The arrival of Norman's crazed uncle Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman) brings knowledge he is next in line to keep the witch's wrath at bay. Tasked with saving the town by sunset, Norman's roller coaster of an adventure begins.
Visually stunning, every aspect of the film has been handcrafted in a slightly skewed, fully charming way. The zombie moments can potentially frighten children—parents should note the film is PG, not G—but an opening homage to B-movie monsters and shoddy production value should ease minds to the artifice at play. If anything, the malicious townsfolk grabbing shotguns, bats, and bowling balls are the real terror as mob-mentality rules the day to mirror the vitriol thrown Norman and Neil's way at school.
ParaNorman educates against bullying and shows how those we deem odd are just as special and potentially heroic as we see ourselves. Mixing great comedic performances of its voice cast, lessons of compassion veiled within the adventure, and an artistic wealth of visual splendor, I see LAIKA once again engaging in a photo finish with Pixar at this year's Oscars. The heavyweight prevailed with Up back in 2010, but next Spring's outcome may just turn the tables.
ParaNorman 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½
 While brushing his teeth, Norman pretends that he is a zombie in PARANORMAN, directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler, the new comedy thriller from LAIKA and Focus Features. Credit: LAIKA, Inc.
 (l to r.) Courtney (voiced by Anna Kendrick), Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), Alvin (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi), and Mitch (voiced by Casey Affleck) hit the road - and something else - in ParaNorman, the new 3D stop-motion comedy thriller from LAIKA and Focus Features, directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler. Credit: LAIKA