August 20, 2012

Spoiler free review: ParaNorman - Fun, Gross, Scary, & Beautiful All at the Same Time

ParaNorman took me by surprise. Much like Brave the core of the plot wasn't given away in trailers. I expected it to be humorous, occasionally icky because that usually accompanies any zombie story, and I knew the art, character designs, and sets would be beautiful. I mean, it's LAIKA. You've seen Coraline, right? (If not, please go do so). ParaNorman delivered on all those counts, but it also brought more to the table and hit some deep morals and themes.

The story about an underdog coming out on top has a lot of appeal to me. Anyone who wasn't one of the "cool kids" in school can relate - and it's amazing that even though school is a such a small portion of your life, those memories of being on the fringes stick with you. Those are formative years, and Norman has to get through them and see and talk to dead people at the same time. And as you can imagine, no one believes him. His older sister is a tool about it, and as for his parents, well - his mom tries to understand and his dad doesn't get it. At all.

I could see some saying the parents are too mean - especially the dad - and yeah, the archetypes may be over emphasized, but I don't see it being that far off from how parents would really react to that news. I'm from a rural town/village. If I told grown-ups I talked to dead people and animals, they'd probably exile me... and something similar - but worse - happens in this movie.

Norman manages to bring everyone around by the end of the movie, but it takes a lot of crazy stuff happening to get people to believe in him. He becomes a stronger, more confident person along the way. He goes from being resigned to being bullied at the beginning of the movie to a take charge kind of guy at the end. I loved seeing him figure things out, and I liked how the people around him changed in tandem.

In between solid character development, there's tons to absorb and look at. There are some hilarious one liners, some moments that made me get all teary-eyed, and some moments that made me glad I hadn't eaten a large meal before I sat down to watch the movie. I feel like the film had many parts that were general homages to some of the ridiculous but wonderful tropes from horror flicks. Norman also has to solve a problem to make the zombies go away, and that story is brutal and pretty dark. I was not expecting it. At all.
Beyond that? The backgrounds, scenery, assets, characters, etc were all so darn lovely. Especially the part at the end where things happen that I can't tell you about without spoiling it! The attention to detail boggles the mind. When I watch stop motion films I can't help but let the back of my mind think about how much time every little action takes. That talented artists can put so many hours of work into building everything without the quality lacking... I just don't know how they do it. The artistry of ParaNorman is not to be underrated.

As I don't have any, I'm a bad judge at telling what's good for children and what's not but - this movie is a little scary in parts. There are some moments in the cemetery, with the zombies, and with a witch that might be a little much for younger kids. I saw the movie with a friend and her youngest son made the switch to his mom's lap a few times. Those moments are more than overtaken by the humorous and warm and fuzzy moments in the movie so I don't think the scary parts will stick and cause bad dreams later, but it's worth mentioning.
Overall, I think this movie will appeal to a huge range of people. If you were an outcast, if you were ever bullied, if you were ever a weird kid (raises hand!), if you love stop motion, if you like lovely set and character designs, if you like zombies, if you like spooky stories, if you had an annoying younger sibling, if you like underdog stories... see where I'm going? I know it's an overused cliche, but I think this film has a little bit of something for a lot of people.

And you can bet I kept an eye out for the props I received in my Blithe Hollow Cemetery box. I spotted the place where this certificate was used and I noticed tombstones like the one I got, too. It was a blast to see them on screen.

Let me know your thoughts about the film! Just please keep it spoiler-free!

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