Blu-ray Review: ParaNorman



Sometimes a film can be categorized as seasonal, and when this happens it can lead people to only watch said film during that time of year. When ParaNorman was released theatrically, it was done in August, which was really a smart move. It’s a time when summer is coming to a close, and fall is quickly approaching; and yet, people aren’t really thinking Halloween, so the film isn’t directly associated with that holiday – even though it’s filled with witches, zombies and ghosts.

This is a good thing, as ParaNorman is a film that should be enjoyed year round, as not only are the messages and theme within it incredibly important for children today, but above all else the film is just loads of fun. The story focuses on a boy named Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who has a special gift – he can see and interact with the dead. Of course, this doesn’t exactly make him the most popular kid in school; in fact, it actually makes him a prime target for bullying.

Yes, Norman is different, and because of this he is shunned by his peers who don’t want to be seen interacting with the “boy who talks to dead people.” No, nobody believes Norman has any special gift, so Norman’s only friends are the ghosts he passes to and from school, and his grandma that he watches scary movies with. This changes, however, when Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) enters Norman’s life.

Neil is a rounder child, and so gosh darn cute that you can’t help but want to pinch his little stop-animated cheeks every time he’s on screen. And while Neil is different, he doesn’t care about it so much, and thinks that Norman’s gift is extremely cool. Together the two embark on a journey to break a curse that a witch cast upon the town centuries ago, as Norman’s ability makes him the only one who can stop it.

The story is quite engaging, and the characters are thoroughly entertaining for both children and adults alike. While children’s movies are made for children, it’s always a huge bonus when there’s enough content to not only keep adults entertained throughout, but also keep them coming back for more – and that’s where ParaNorman delivers. In fact, it delivers in this area so much that while younger kids will enjoy the more obvious jokes, it’s the older audience who will really reap the benefits of this film’s humour.

Fans of horror films will find plenty to enjoy here, even though it’s still a family friendly movie. Granted, younger kids may find it scary at times, but it’ll be up the parents to gauge at what age they believe their child can handle it. The character of Neil is absolutely hysterical, and has some laugh-out-loud, ab-creating moments that really steal the show. The main cast of characters is rounded out with Norman’s older sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), Neil’s also hilariously dimwitted older brother Mich (Casey Affleck), and the school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).

Each character has a beautifully unique voice, and fit into the story perfectly in their own way. There’s plenty of laughs to be had from all of them, and nothing ever feels forced or cliché. In fact, the story is quite unique, and told with some incredibly impressive stop animation. There are lots of great visual gags, and many of them will likely be noticed the second time around, as there’s just so much to take in. The final act is pure eye-candy, and those who choose to pick up the 3D version are in for a treat if it’s anywhere near as good as the theatrical 3D show.

This is writer/director Chris Butler’s first film – both as writer and director. Stepping up from the art department work he did on Corpse Bride and Coraline, Butler has shown that he’s got what it takes to make an impact in the animated market, and hopefully it won’t be long before he leaves yet another mark. His co-director, Sam Fell (Flushed Away), also needs mention, as the two really crafted a fine looking film.

ParaNorman is a film about being different and trying to fit in just as much as it’s a movie about witch’s curses and seeing ghosts. It’s about finding your place, not being afraid to be yourself, and to embrace what it is that makes you different and not be afraid to show it. It’s an important message for kids to start understanding at an early age, and an equally important message to get out to older kids, teenagers and young adults as well. ParaNorman is a touching movie with lots of laughs, engaging characters, and goofy zombies – what more could you ask for?

ParaNorman looks fantastic on Blu-ray, with a wonderful transfer in both visuals and sound that really help present the movie the way it was meant to be seen.

The special features for ParaNorman are vast in certain areas, and really give an inside look (or listen) at to how the film was put together from inception to the silver screen.

Feature Commentary with Writer/Director Chris Butler and Director Sam Fell – This is an in-depth commentary that fans of the film who enjoy hearing the ins and outs of productions will enjoy. Butler and Fell cover just about everything one would want to have covered throughout the course of this piece.

Preliminary Animatic Sequences – This featurette is nine minutes in length and covers some early, really basic hand-drawn animated storyboards, with some practice voice work to go along with them.

Peering Through the Veil: Behind the Scenes of ParaNorman
This is the meat and potatoes of the special features for those who prefer to visually see how things were done instead of just listening to the commentary while the movie plays in the background. There are nine quite solid features to be found here that equal out to over 40 minutes in length. It’s really amazing to see just how much work went into making this movie, and the miniature sets built, and the animation process as a whole – it’s really incredible.

Seven Features on the Making of ParaNormanThere are seven more featurettes that are a lot shorter than the above (all seven come in at about 15 minutes altogether), but still hold a solid amount of information that those interested will no doubt find…well, interesting! Of course, some of these could actually be longer, and they’d be all the more interesting because of it.

Focus Features presents ParaNorman. Directed by: Chris Butler and Sam Fell. Written by: Chris Butler. Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman. Running time: 93 minutes. Rating: PG. Released: November 27, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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