The cast/crew bit: directed & written by Chris Butler, starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi & Anna Kendrick
The ten-word synopsis: Kid who sees dead people called upon to stop zombies.
Brave may not be a misfire on Pixars’ behalf, but it’s far from their best work. The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists is a fine animated comedy, but nowhere near as funny as Aardmans’ two previous features. And the less said about any of the nonsense Dreamworks have put out this year, the better. Yet, suddenly, it feels like none of this matters, as Laika, makers of 2009s’ creepy kids film Coraline, have outdone not just themselves but anybody involved in an animated feature for the past three years. Paranorman is not just the best animated film of the year, it’s the best since Up redefined 3D animation genre. It’s reminiscent of Pixar at their best, with the added edge that being a horror film lends it. Simply put, Paranorman is a really, really good film.
There was nothing I disliked about Paranorman. The film opens with a scene from a mock black-and-white animate zombie movie, which Norman and his grandmother are watching. His gran avoids falling into the trap of becoming an archetypal irritating older lady by a whisker, and actually remains quite funny, thanks to not being over-used in the same way Sids’ granny was in this years’ Ice Age 4. It quickly transpires that granny isn’t granny- she’s been dead for over a year, and is just a ghost. A figment on Normans’ imagination. Except, perhaps, she isn’t. Norman sees ghosts everywhere he goes, as shown in a terrific sequence that sees the camera pan from him looking a bit mad, waving to thin air, to his eyes, then out to him communicating with ghosts, laughing with them, generally being quite a lovely boy, no matter what his more sombre school reputation looks like. Norman is shunned by everyone and the favourite target of the wonderfully unintelligent Alvin. (Portrayed by Kick-Ass’ Christopher Mintz-Plasse) Bullying is a theme at the heart of the film, and it’s one of the most effective takes on it you’ll ever see. Norman never looks to ‘conquer’ his bullies, to cause them pain in return for what they did to him. Instead, he looks to try and put any differences aside, to make both parties move on, perhaps even to befriend them. Both the Alvin arc and the wider bullying comparisons are pulled off with a compassion that only comes from a group of filmmakers who really care about what they’re producing.
This is evident throughout Paranorman. It’s a beautifully animated film, done with Aardman-style stop-motion tricks meaning each second of film is painstakingly created. Perhaps the film doesn’t have the attention to detail that the likes of Chicken Run has, but it is still designed to within an inch of its life, every shot spot-on. The script is witty and melancholic in equal measures and never, at any stage, patronises the audience. With dialogue sharp and characters likeable, you’d think the actors in the roles wouldn’t have much work to do. However, the entire cast excel themselves, with special mention having to go to Miss Anna Kendrick. The scripts weakest point is the stereotypical cheerleader character, but by casting the ever-terrific Kendrick Laika have negotiated a pitfall that could’ve ensnared much of the audience in a fizz of irritation. She adds spark to a character that feels so archetypal you have to wonder whether she’s just ghostly pile of long-since-abandoned clichés Norman sees. Otherwise, the casts delivery is excellent, on the whole, and adds even more life to the studios’ excellent visual work.
Rammed full of horror film references and little nods to genre tropes, Paranorman is designed to appeal not to a broad audience, but a lot of different audiences. There will be people who don’t ‘get it’, but let’s ignore them. The films’ wit always comes through, never resorting to a cheap reference to get a giggle as has become the norm in comedy. There’s always a punchline to go with the ‘I get that!’ moment. The comedy isn’t exclusively scare-based, with plenty of cheaper gags present, but done with enough imagination to raise a smile. (One scene involving Alvin in a toilet cubicle springs to mind. It’s a joke so simply you have to wonder why nobody else’d done it before.)
The film isn’t scary per se, but it is likely to freak kids who, perhaps aren’t born-again horror geeks like Norman. However, that’s part of the fun. As a ‘My first horror movie’, which was what I was expecting, Paranorman ticks all the boxes. However, what’s most impressive is as a loving homage to the genre or as a general animated film, it continues swishing its metaphorical pen. It stays the right side of Tim Burton-y and never veers off into the land of the patronising. Paranorman not only respects the kids, but the parents and anyone else who may happen upon the film. I’m not ashamed to say I cried as this film built to its finale. It, honestly, in my eyes, sits amongst the likes of Monsters Inc and Up in a genre I love so much and is jousting with Cabin in the Woods for the smartest horror film of the last decade, never mind this year. Just see Paranorman, for everybodies sake.
8 remorseful zombies out of 10