October Issue 2012

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 8 years ago

Not Your Normal Cartoon

One is never quite sure of an animation film’s target audience. Studios like Pixar, Dreamworks Animation or Illumination Entertainment have consistently made films aimed at appealing to both children and adults, and have often been successful in reaching viewers of all ages. Some animated works trying the same formula, however, do not fare as well, being either too grown-up or too childish. ParaNorman is one such example.

From the same studio that made Henry Selick’sCoraline, ParaNorman is, like that film, an attempt at a hybrid animation-horror-comedy-adventure movie — but it is the horror that dominates. While adults might be entertained by the film, children watching it could end up with serious nightmares.ParaNorman has zombies, witches and ghosts in abundance, and the filmmakers don’t shy away from portraying these creatures in their most frightening avatars.

Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a young boy who, channelling Haley Osment from The Sixth Sense, sees dead people. While his family, consisting of parents (Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin) and an older, brattish sister (Anna Kendrick) think he’s just having harmless delusions, Norman knows that his gift his genuine. We see him talking to his late grandmother and to other ghosts on his way to school. He is, subsequently, seen as odd and is often bullied at school. The ‘fat kid’ thus, as most such plots go, becomes his best friend.

Meanwhile, Norman’s uncle (John Goodman), a lunatic who is also able to see ghosts, tells his nephew of a witch and her ancient curse. Norman has been told to stay away from this most obnoxious family member, but is nevertheless intrigued. And when the uncle dies, but continues to warn Norman from beyond the grave about what could befall the town, it’s up to our little hero to save it from the aforementioned witch and her curse.

The film’s stop-motion animation is commendable, with some excellent set-pieces throughout the film. The weaving together of the bizarre, the menacing and the lighter moments is done with deftness and delicacy.

While ParaNorman’s plot line is sketchy, predictable and a little too long, and it uses clichéd characters, such as the nerdy freak, the fat kid or the dumb bully, the execution of the film makes it slick and watchable. And there are some surprises. For example in one scene, the fat kid character is caught freeze-framing his mother’s aerobic videos, and his brother (Casey Affleck) is revealed to be openly gay towards the end of the film. Has this ever been seen before in a children’s film? Probably not. And will children understand it? Again, probably not.

But because ParaNorman, revels in its awkwardness it may be a film worth watching.

This review was originally published in the October issue of Newsline.

Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany