I was reluctant to see ParaNorman because of its trailer. The trailer, if you haven’t seen it, consists of a sad-looking boy named Norman with the ability to see and talk to ghosts. He is disliked by most of his town for being different. He is accompanied by his chubby and eccentric red-headed friend (why are gingers always the fat, supportive friends in kids’ movies?), his cheerleader older sister, a bully who wears gauges and dark clothes, and a jock. Conflict arises when zombies come to Norman’s town, and unsurprisingly, it is up to Norman and his special powers to save the day. That’s what I got out of the trailer.
I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised when I watched the film – surely the basic cookie-cutter plotline (outcast unites with his loser friend, popular crowd, and bad-boy-who’s-not-so-bad to save the day) for many children’s movies wouldn’t apply to the same production studio that made the gorgeous and intriguing Coraline. Unfortunately, the trailer sums up the film fairly well.
Norman is an outcast and only he can save the day from a witch’s curse on the town. I think the studio could have gotten a little more creative with a character like Norman. With his special powers to see and talk to the dead, there are a myriad of possibilities of things he could have done or said with all the dead people around. The only dead person he maintains a relationship with is his grandmother. But if Norman is a young and friendless kid, wouldn’t he have quite a few dead people he maintains deep relationships with?
Because of this, the film is strongest when his relationship with the dead is emphasized. I’d say the best parts of the film are the beginning and the end. In the beginning, there is a great scene of him walking to school, talking to various ghosts that he bumps into along the way; the people of the town see Norman capering around, chatting with road-kill and empty space. It’s a simple yet cute and interesting scene that shows just how odd Norman is perceived to be by the town. In this way, ParaNorman seems like it could have been a really good short film. In the end, when Norman is trying to save the day, the scene is shot exactly like a horror film, giving a sense of gravity to the situation. It’s pretty terrifying and violent for a film meant for children. However, even though this is a movie meant for children, many of the jokes just weren’t that funny, even for kids.
ParaNorman’s saving grace was the gorgeous stop-motion animation and cinematography. It took three years to produce the film, two of which just focused on animating the stop-motion. The mannerisms of the characters, like hair movement, gestures and facial expressions while talking were unbelievably realistic. I couldn’t help but marvel at how time-consuming it must have been for the animators to focus on such meticulous details. The shots were usually interesting and visually appealing.
While a lot of time and effort went into producing ParaNorman, not enough time was invested in developing the plot and characters. A film shouldn’t have to rely on its cinematographic technique and skills to keep a viewer intrigued and attentive to the story; it should rely on the plot.