ParaNorman ★★★★

Paranorman is a wonderful throwback to my own childhood, lovingly referencing the types of films I was obsessed with back in the late ‘80s. Unlike other recent films (Super 8 springs to mind) this never feels like a pastiche or cheap homage, instead it takes all these disparate references - zombie films, Goonies-style adventure, cursed small towns etc. - and makes something that is both old and modern that should play well to both young and old alike.

As with the studio’s previous stop-frame animated feature, Coraline, the film manages to expertly tread that delicate line between horror and comedy. In many ways this is a scarier, darker and more adult story than Selick’s aforementioned movie. It doesn’t shy away from creeping out its audience nor from delivering a pleasingly complex (for a kid’s film) conclusion. The story easily lends itself to merely being a procession of film references for the adults and broad comedy for the younger audience members yet, whilst these two elements are present here, the film branches out and touches on some interesting issues along the way.

The ragtag group of kids thrust together to save their town are a delight. More than anything this group dynamic really does have a strong ‘80s vibe with jocks, bullies, dumb blondes and social outcasts all trying to co-exist. Their familiar stereotypes are even subverted through the course of the film which was pleasing to see, even if they are far from rich and developed. Norman in particular is a charming character and his ability to see dead people is never overplayed. The curse at the centre of the story is particularly well handled, not only visually but also in the emotional impact it has on those involved.

The film is an utter treat for the senses. In many ways it might even be more impressive than the benchmark setting Coraline with stunning art direction and impressive animation throughout. I absolutely adored the slightly angular look of the characters and sets. Each and every one was packed full of character which is all the more impressive when you consider how large the cast are. On a technical level the film is a triumph too whether it is during complicated crowd sequences or simpler sight gags, everything about the film just looks so right. In particular the atmospheric lighting and well judged CGI really added to the film’s mood, especially during the key set pieces which were packed full of invention and jaw dropping effects.

The film isn’t quite perfect - it takes a little while to find its feet, some of the jokes don’t quite hit the mark and perhaps a smaller cast of characters would have given it greater focus - but in many ways these faults actually added to my enjoyment. Most of the films I loved as a kid weren’t perfect; they were rough around the edges but shot through with an energy and passion often missing in studio films today. Paranorman possesses that same passion. It may have cost $80+ million to produce but it has the feel of a passion project and the vitality of a smaller independent film. There is little evidence of it being focus tested within an inch of its life or being committee-led, instead it feels like it came from one creative source and it is all the better for it.

I loved it.

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