I See Clay People

Paranorman is a socially responsible, animated Sixth Sense

Before Pixar flexed its artistic muscle (a muscle they could stand to exercise more frequently these days), the message in American animated films ranged from “always be true to yourself” to “always be true to yourself and also get heterosexually married.” Paranorman isn’t about self-confidence or individual expression. It’s about how people can be huge, cruel dicks. Specifically, when confronted by those with unique attributes, uneducated mobs often become terrified to the point of violence. That this point is driven home via stop-motion zombies and a witch is utterly fantastic.

Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a spiky-haired pre-teen with a hormonal cheerleader sister (Anna Kendrick), dismissive father (Jeff Garlin), concerned mother (Leslie Mann) and dead grandmother (Elaine Stritch), who Norman still sees and talks to. His ability to communicate with the deceased has not gone unnoticed at school by thugs like Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), leaving Norman friendless until he meets fellow bully-target and poster child for juvenile obesity Neil (Tucker Albrizzi). When his uncle, Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman) reveals he too has this supernatural gift, it is in a warning that only Norman can stop a witch burned at the stake 300 years ago from raining destruction on the town.

First things first, Paranorman is funny. Not “funny for a kid’s movie funny,” but legitimately clever and hilarious. Fart jokes and sly sexual references for the adults are what pass for comedic bait in most animated fare, but writer/director Chris Butler is more gifted than that. Hell, each and every supporting character in the film is duly motivated and more fully realized than most roles inhabited by flesh-and-blood humans elsewhere.

For example, Neil’s observation regarding the abuse he receives at school for his weight is remarkable. He tells Norman that bullying is simply a part of “human nature,” and that Norman himself would likely be a bully if he were “bigger and stupider.” Younger audiences are usually spared that degree of genuine insight, mostly because they aren’t trusted to receive it. Here is a film that does just that. Similarly, the climax doesn’t involve convincing the rampaging witch she is wrong; it hinges on getting the pitchfork-and-torch bearers to realize this mess is pretty much their fault.

Paranorman admittedly depends on other conceits (The Sixth Sense, every afterschool special ever). It also occupies a weird position, in that it’s too intense and scary for the youngest kids and slightly too-kiddy for older children. That said, the humor, warmth and message are likely worth the risk of accidentally warping or boring a child.

It’s worth noting a character in the film is gay, not implicitly but explicitly. It’s easy to infer as much if you’re paying attention, but when it was outright confirmed, it induced gasps from several audience members. This revelation merely underscored the flick’s existing and obvious theme of brutality and isolation created by the dominant groups in society. Still…it was a pretty bad-ass move on Butler’s part.

Paranorman is funnier than most comedies, more sophisticated than most ensemble films and a sure-fire challenger to Brave, not just for best animated film of the year, but for best film of the year. Full stop.

Grade = A

posted at 07:57 am
on Saturday, August 18th, 2012

COMMENTS

(We're testing Disqus commenting (finally!); please let us know if you have trouble.)

comments powered by Disqus

 

« Previous Page


Fury Is Missing Fast

Inside of writer/director David Ayer’s Fury is a tight, 90-minute, “we will hold this line” war movie populated with complex characters and surprisingly good performances. Problem is, it was slipped...

more »


The Adventures of Super Vlad

Left out of the superhero movie party every other studio is throwing, Universal made the ballsy decision to turn Dracula into caped crusader. Gone are the prominent widow’s peak, goofy accent and...

more »


Everyone is Awful

Warning to newly engaged couples: Do not see Gone Girl, a movie that makes marriage look like The Hunger Games with slightly more alleged sodomy. Writer Gillian Flynn, adapting her own novel, filters...

more »


Swimming in the Laika

From Ray Harryhausen’s Medusa to Henry Selick’s Jack Skellington, stop-motion animation is just frickin’ cool, yo. Maybe it’s the meticulous nature of the art form, with each tiny gesture by a...

more »


The Dies That Bind

“Hilarious!” say the trailers! “Really funny!” says the poster. “You are all sick people!” says me.

Yes, in parts, The Skeleton Twins is amusing. This is because stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig...

more »







Advanced Search