I have been reviewing movies and television shows that will help you get in the mood for Halloween. While its easy to find great horror films for adults, you will have a much harder time to find good Halloween films for the younger crowd. While there are the most popular like The Nightmare Before Christmas, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and Monster Squad I want to add a new one to the list ParaNorman. Here is my original review when it was released last year in theaters. And the trailer if you have not seen it.
Over the weekend I was able to get out and see ParaNorman. I was really looking forward to it because 1) it’s stop motion animation that I love dearly. 2) The animation was done by Laika Entertainment that made the wonderful Coraline feature. The plot is pretty straightforward, a small town comes under siege by zombies. Who can it call? Only misunderstood local boy Norman who is able to speak with the dead. In addition to zombies, he’ll have to take on ghosts, witches and, worst of all, grown-ups, to save his town from a centuries-old curse. But this young ghost whisperer may find his paranormal activities pushed to their otherworldly limits.
ParaNorman is one of those rare treats that is disguised as a kids film but is really made for adults that grew up on classic 50’s monster movies. Most “family films” only wish that they were this good. While the story is simple to me that’s one of it’s best assets. It allows the characters room to breath and develop at a very natural pace. A lot of the story is beautifully conveyed in the animation. With stop motion, the subtle expressions really bring to life every one of the characters. Beyond the comedy and the horror aspect of the film it always keep the most important thing in mind, it’s heart. From the moment you meet Norman you can relate to him. We have all felt like outcast that no one understands. It never loses site of the point that you always have friends and family that will always be there when you need them.
Visually is where the movie really shines. From the character designs, sets, lighting and the sets they all breath life into this amazing world. This is one of the few films that actually is worth seeing in 3-D. Instead of the usual gimmick that 3-D is they were very smart in the use of it to see the depth of the world that has been created. Directors Chris Butler who had previously worked on Coraline and Corpse Bride wrote the story for ParaNorman. Sam Fell who directed Flushed Away from Aardman bring together a talented cast and crew and create one of the best summer films out there. One thing that I found really remarkable was the voice cast. There are really no big name actors doing the voices they just got actors that truly breathe life into the puppets. Kodi Smit-McPhee as Norman and Tucker Albrizzi as Neil are real standouts.
This summer has been filled with a lot of films but ParaNorman is for me the best gift of the summer. I think it’s the one that you will actually want to see again.
Make sure that you stay until the end of the credits for a special treat.
The Blu-Ray has been out for a while it’s a great time of the year to gather the family and get the popcorn ready and revisit this fantastic film. For those who have not watched the film yet here is the plot synopsis, Writer/director Chris Butler puts his experience working on Coraline and Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride to good use in this charmingly morbid tale of an eccentric young hero facing supernatural forces that would make most grown-ups cower in fear. Eleven-year-old Norman Babcock (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a young misfit with a remarkable gift: He sees dead people. Although Norman’s clairvoyance allows him the unique opportunity to enjoy the company of his beloved grandmother (Elaine Stritch) long after she has ceased to be, it also drives his frustrated father Perry (Jeff Garlin) and popularity-obsessed sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) up the wall at home and makes him the target of dim-witted bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) at school. His only friend is portly Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), who isn’t exactly a beacon of coolness. When Norman’s deceased uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman), a local pariah, warns the young boy that he must save their small town of Blithe Hollow from a witch’s curse that has plagued the area for centuries, the young creature-feature addict isn’t entirely sure how to respond — that is, until the sky turns red, the clouds start to swirl, and the dead rise up from their graves. Now, as a terrified mob takes to the streets with torches in hand, it’s up to Norman, Courtney, Alvin, Neil, and Neil’s older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) to put things right, even if it means confronting the 300-year-old curse that has haunted Blithe Hollow ever since the notorious witch hunts of the 18th century.
This is a review of the 2-D version of the Blu-Ray.
The package says that the disc is 2:40 the original theatrical aspect ratio is 2:35 but the disc does seem to be 2:40. The video is 1080p AVC encoded and is probably sourced from the original 2K source material. The picture is truly reference material here. The color levels are spot on with vibrant color palette that shines when there are the daytime scenes and captures the low light night scenes perfectly and black levels are strong and spot on. The transfer captures every fine details of the puppets and the wonderful sets. The picture is sharp but does capture the processed grain to make the original digital source feel more like film and capture the style intended. This is a really stunning looking Blu-Ray that with really make that big screen shine. The audio is 5.1 DTS-MA lossless audio and really captures the soundtrack nicely. Some people will say that the sound is not reference material and I think that they do the audio mix a great disservice. One of the things that I love about the film is the audio mix and hit all of the right beats in the film. There is a lot of subtle sound going on in the film and that is really hard for a lot of people to appreciate. Most people think that it’s the big action films that have great mixes but it’s films like ParaNorman that show how sound can really envelope you without overpower or overwhelming. The dialog is crisp and clean and the surround channels kick in when appropriate. Both video and audio are real standouts on the movie and the Blu-Ray.
While the film hits a home run for me it’s the extras that Universal has created to make this a really nice special edition. Making a stop motion film is very tedious and long work and there are many great extras that really help you understand the process and how the whole thing was put together.
- Audio Commentary: Writer and co-director Chris Butler and co-director Sam Fell do a very nice commentary that is both informing and fun. They are constantly pointing out the creative team who worked on individual scenes, homages and how the film was made. While there is a lot of information it never feels dry or technical. Once you have seen the film I recommend giving it a listen for the great insight.
- U-Control: This is Universals picture in picture feature that runs the length of the feature. It has interviews with the cast and crew. Shows storyboards, conceptual art, actor voice sessions, and more. While it does repeat a few things from both the commentary and the other special features there is still a ton of new stuff to devour in this feature.
- Peering Through the Veil: This section has nine separate sections that can be watched individually or as a play all. These are great specific subjects that really delve into the making of the film and the different aspects of bringing the project from the script to the screen. Here are the individual listings;
- That’s ParaNorman (HD 1:02)
- Creating a World (HD 4:19)
- Voicing ParaNorman (HD 6:21)
- Building Characters (HD 5:40)
- Making Faces (HD 6:57)
- Rigging the Game (HD 4:00)
- Bringing the Undead to Life (HD 4:28)
- Angry Aggie (HD 5:19)
- Weird and Wonderful (HD 2:39)
- Featurettes: This section is composed of eight separate web featurettes that are used to get people excited about the film. They are EPK type material but there is some nice stuff to see here. Here are the individual listings;
- You Don’t Become a Hero by Being Normal (HD 2:48)
- A Normal Childhood (HD 2:08)
- Playing as a Profession (HD 2:23)
- Making Norman (HD 1:38)
- This Little Light (HD 1:19)
- Have You Ever Seen a Ghost (HD 2:16)
- The Zombies of ParaNorman (2:19)
- Preliminary Animatic Sequences: This section has three scenes in their animatic stage with optional commentary by Writer and co-director Chris Butler and co-director Sam Fell. This gives you a peek of how the script is broken down into storyboard to show the animators what the scene will look like. Here are the individual listings;
- Walking With the Ghost (HD 4:23)
- Bromance (HD 2:05)
- Missing Ghost (HD 2:31)
With a lot of studios cutting back on the special features now days it’s really nice that Universal really gave ParaNorman the proper edition that it deserved. There is a lot of great stuff to go through on the disc and it really helps you understand the massive undertaking of making a stop motion feature and the talent it takes to pull it off. While it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature for 2012 it sadly lost to Pixar’s Brave that of the five nominations (Frankenweenie, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and Wreck-It Ralph) should have won because it was the best of the five and Brave while nice and pretty was the weakest of the five. I think that once you watch ParaNorman that you will fall in love with the film as much as I did and it gets better upon each viewing. You will find that you will notice things that you had never seen before but in the end it’s the great story and heart that will always bring you back.