Old 08-16-2012, 10:08 PM
Chris Butler's and Sam Fell's ParaNorman

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



ParaNorman (2012)

“ParaNorman” is a stop-motion animated film that looks like it came straight from the mind of Tim Burton, but surprisingly, you won’t find his name anywhere on it. Instead, it actually came from Laika, the animation company who brought us “Coraline,” a bizarre, but wonderful animated film, back in 2009. This gave them a steep uphill battle to fight in order to get back to that level of quality. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it, nor did they seem to try very hard to do so.

Norman (Voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee) is no ordinary kid. He has a very special gift of being able to communicate with ghosts, a talent which has made him an outcast at school. His town is a bit famous for a witch having been caught and killed there, only to come back and seek revenge against the seven people who were responsible. On the 300th anniversary of this event, Norman’s Uncle (Voice of John Goodman), warns him that he must continue the tradition of keeping the witch asleep so that she doesn’t come back and carry out her curse on the town.

Norman attempts to carry out the simple ritual of reading a fairy tale at a gravesite, but is interrupted by a bully, Alvin (Voice of Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who constantly gives him trouble. Because of this interruption, the corpses of the witch’s seven victims arise to terrorize the town. Now, Norman must team up with Alvin and Neil (Voice of Tucker Albrizzi), an acquaintance from school, to stop the zombies and put an end to the witches curse.

To start off, this is a pretty dark movie, so to have it showing in 3-D is a pretty big error on the filmmakers’ parts, as it would be even if the film took place entirely during the day. However, this is another example of a film where it is done for no reason whatsoever. Nothing pops off the screen, nor is there any depth added to it at all. In fact, the biggest use of the 3-D was during the coming attractions, so it merely makes one wonder why they would bother doing it in the first place when all they’re doing is dimming an already dark film.

On the plus side, the film has several amusing moments, mostly aimed at kids. Strangely though, there were a pair of references early on in the film to “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” that younger kids are most likely not going to get, so you end up getting the feeling that the filmmakers were trying to appeal to both kids and adults, even if the latter group was only appealed to for a little bit.

However, even the several amusing moments couldn’t help the plot, which ends up dragging the film down quite a bit. For the most part, it’s actually pretty dull and simplified, even for a movie that’s directed mostly at kids. The kids at this screening seemed amused for the most part, so maybe it’s simply a matter of being in the wrong age group.

They should have taken a page from their previous effort, ”Coraline,” a film that had a wildly imaginative story that was very engaging. “ParaNorman” tries to keep its audience entertained, but as the film proceeds, it only ends up feeling more and more stretched out, so by the time the conclusion finally rolls around, you’re quite ready for it to end.

I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to call it a bad movie, it’s just a movie that could have used a little improvement in the story department. This is the first film from writer Chris Butler, whose credits mainly include being a storyboard artist, so hopefully the next time he writes a screenplay, he’ll develop it more thoroughly instead of just stretching it out.

Butler co-directed the film with Sam Fell, who previously gave us “The Tale of Despereaux,” which ironically had the opposite problem of “ParaNorman.” Whereas this film didn’t have enough to keep it afloat, “Despereaux” had tried to tackle too much at once. If Laika could get ahold of another writer who could deliver just the right amount of story, then they just might be able to deliver us another success like “Coraline.” If they don’t at least try harder, then they’ll merely end up with something that’s as instantly forgettable as “ParaNorman” was. 2.5/4 stars.
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