Wednesday, August 29, 2012

ParaNorman (Wanous)


'ParaNorman' defines wonderful artistry

By CRAIG WANOUS

Wonderful artistry defines this animated film

Keynoter Contributor

Lead animator on 'ParaNorman' previously worked under Tim Burton.
"ParaNorman," rated PG, 93 min., now playing at the Tropic Cinema.

This new animated comedy uses stop-motion and very effective 3D techniques to bring to life a tale of witches, zombies, ghosts and out-of-control adults. "ParaNorman" may be a little too scary for the toddler set (I heard one child fearfully ask "Is this real, Mommy?") but older kids and grown-ups should enjoy this charmingly strange film.

Produced by the animation company Laika, which is owned by Nike co-founder Phil Knight, this is the company's second stop-motion animated 3D film; the first was the critically acclaimed but under-appreciated "Coraline."
In "ParaNorman," the action takes place in the small town of Blithe Hollow, a run-down village whose only claim to fame is that a witch was hanged and buried somewhere near the town 300 years ago.
Unknown to the townsfolk, the witch cursed the town and every year on the anniversary of her death, someone must follow a prescribed ritual to appease her until the next anniversary. But this year, circumstances prevent that ritual from taking place and the town is besieged by ghosts and zombies released by the curse. All hell is breaking loose and little Norman is the only one who can save Blithe Hollow.
Norman is the weird kid who gets picked on and bullied, both at school and at home because he claims to be able to see and talk to the dead, including people, animals and even road kill. At home, his dead grandmother is a near-constant presence in the house that only he can see and hear. Of course no one, including his family, believes him, except maybe his peculiar and secretive uncle, voiced by John Goodman. The uncle reluctantly passes the secret ritual on to his nephew and it's up to Norman and his band of followers to save the town from the centuries-old curse.
Co-directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell, the film also had Travis Knight (son of Phil Knight) as lead animator. Chris Butler previously worked under Tim Burton on "Corpse Bride" and it's easy to see Burton's influence on Butler's style. Fell was the director of "The Tale of Despereaux" and "Flushed Away," so he has a history of well-crafted, stop-motion and animated features.
"ParaNorman" took two years to make and the craftsmanship is evident in every scene. Whether it's the movement of the zombies, the design of the wacky cars, or the dark, ominous clouds swirling overhead, the viewer can see the care and detail that went into the film.
The faces and bodies of the characters are wonderfully warped and weird, which only adds to the delightfully bizarre animation. And, unlike most animated films, this one develops slowly, giving the viewer time to appreciate the many one-liners and sight gags throughout the film.
The movie has a worthy message about bullying, intolerance and the dangers of fear. The one flaw in the film is that the directors tend to get a little heavy-handed delivering that message. But the art is wonderful, the numerous references to horror movies and their clich├ęs are clever and the characters are strangely beautiful.
The result is a poignant, funny and touching film about finding your own way, the value of friendship and, above all, learning to forgive.    

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