ParaNorman Blu-ray Review (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, November 27, 2012
From the moment I saw the teaser trailer cut to Donovan’s “Season of the Witch”, I knew ParaNorman was going to be something special. The fact that it was from the genius minds at Laika (Coraline) should have been enough of a dead giveaway. With just two feature length films under their belt, Laika have carved out a reputation for craftsmanship that is unparalleled. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to box office dollars, and their latest labor of love was criminally overlooked in its theatrical run. What better way to fix that injustice than by giving this gem of a film it’s due on Blu-ray?
There are so many things that make this film so very special, but beyond it’s incredible artistic achievements and mind bending technical execution, lies a story that is unique in our current world of kid films. So often we praise animated films for being for kids and adults. They have everything a film needs to keep children in their tractor beams, but also have jokes that go over their heads for adults to chuckle at. That’s all well and good, but ParaNorman strives for something much more challenging- not treating kids like kids, but rather treating them like people. If you’re a thirtysomething like me, then you grew up on films such as The Goonies and Monster Squad, films that were not covered in Nerf and anthropomorphic animals, but showed kids just like us going on adventures that were equal parts thrilling and terrifying. Parents will always be overprotective of their children, after all, it’s a dangerous world out there, but seldom do they realize that learning to navigate that world is a necessary part of growing up. ParaNorman gets this in spades, and provides a world with real stakes, and characters who are real people, regardless of their age.
Everything in ParaNorman is fully realized. The town of Blithe Hollow is made from odd angled buildings and homes, and uses it’s witchcraft heritage to full effect. Every character is unique, with just enough personality and quirk to be memorable. All the voice actors knock it out of the park, but I have to give an extra nod to Casey Affleck as Mitch, he was born to lend his voice to the animated. The secret weapon of the film is Jon Brion’s phenomenal score. He manages to create beautiful themes for the characters, tense rising action, and nails 70’s style horror synth for the zombie movie within a movie. Even more impressive is when these pieces end up blending together. The humor, instead of going for the obvious, is genuinely funny and wickedly smart (Witness Neil pausing his Mom’s aerobics tape at just the right moment), and the story will play on your expectations. Many characters and situations are more than they seem, and that can do more for a young mind’s perceptions than any amount of animals preforming karaoke. If you’re looking for the lesson, there are many, but bullying is front and center, yet is handled in such a deft way that it never feels forced or preachy, just purely natural and told with beauty.
Any animated film, particularly a stop-motion one, is a treasure trove of behind the scenes extras, and ParaNorman is no different. The most interesting bits are the in-depth look at how they used 3D printing for all the character’s facial expressions, and the gorgeous time laps shots of the animators posing all the characters for a scene. The commentary by writers and co-directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell is also full of wonderful technical insight, and a nice look at their influences. If there’s one extra I wish was on the disc, it would be the zombie movie within the movie that keeps popping up throughout the film. It’s not that I expect a full movie, but it would be cool to see everything they shot for it strung together. The picture quality is stunning, as it comes from a digital master, and the audio is up to snuff as well.
Audio Commentary by Writer and co-director Chris Butler and fellow co-director Sam Fell.
Peering Through the Veil- Nine segments on the making of the film.
Featurettes - Seven more pieces focusing on the crew at Laika animation studios.
Preliminary Animatic Sequences- A collection of animatics and storyboards that provide some extra and deleted scenes.
If I were an Academy voter I would hand the Oscar for best animated feature to ParaNorman in a heartbeat. Pixar’s Brave was enjoyable, and Wreck-It Ralph was a ton of fun, but ParaNorman is the gem of the year. Now only if it would get its due…
Mania Grade: A
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Written By: Chris Butler
Directed By: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Extras: See Below