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Friday, November 9, 2012


And the award for this year's best animated film (so far) goes to...

Also at Channel 24 

What it's about

Everyone knows that Norman Babcock is a bit of a weirdo. Instead of having any friends his own age, he spends his time imagining that he can see and talk to the ghosts. But Norman is no weirdo: he really can see ghosts and its not long before Norman has to use his very unique gifts to save his town from a very old and very malevolent witchy threat.

What we thought

This spring apparently really is the season of the witch as we've had our cinemas invaded by no less than three ghoulish animated films for kids, one right after the other. First we had the rather weak Hotel Transylvania that was noteworthy only for some nice animation and for the fact that it was still a thousand times better than anything Adam Sandler has done in more years than any of us would dare admit.

Much better was Frankenweenie, Tim Burton's stop-motion ode to classic monster flicks that may not have dominated Hotel Transylvania at the box office, but certainly should have. It was ultimately somewhat unsatisfying in terms of its storytelling and is far from Burton's best, but it had imagination, wit and intelligence to spare.

Completing the triumvirate and blowing the other two films out of the water, though, comes ParaNorman, which is not only the best animated film of the year so far, but may well be the best monster-themed animated flick to come along since the criminally underrated Monster House. Most tellingly, not only does ParaNorman take on Tim Burton at his own game, but it beats him at every single turn.

Both ParaNorman and Frankenweenie feature 3D stop-motion animation, plots that draw heavily from classic monster movies and heroes that are considered heroic specifically because they march to their own drums. Both celebrate “letting your freak flag fly” and both work within the very difficult-to-get-right genre of kid-friendly horror and both have predictably enraged parental groups who believe that kids films with any sort of edge to them should be banned, if not burned in effigy.

What ParaNorman has over Frankenweenie, though, are better jokes, more fully developed characters, greater pathos and a more fully developed story. Even its vibrant, deliciously ghoulish stop-motion animation – courtesy of Laika Entertainment, the crack animation studio behind the equally marvellous Coraline - is somehow even more beautifully grotesque than the Hammer-inspired, starkly monochromatic eye candy of Burton's film.
Filmmakers Chris Butler and Sam Fell may not have the longest resumes – the latter's only truly notable feature-film directorial effort was the admittedly very good Aardman production, Flushed Away, while for the former, ParaNorman marks his debut effort as either writer or director – but their storytelling instincts are already pretty perfectly honed.

Norman is, from the outset, an immensely likeable protagonist and is voiced to perfection by The Road's Kodi Smit-McPhee and the rest of the cast is filled out with fairly archetypal (the ditzy older sister, the dumb jock, the overly dramatic English teacher, etcetera, etcetera) but still memorable supporting parts, as voiced by a terrific cast that includes the likes of John Goodman, Anna Kendrick, Christopher-Mintz-Plasse and Casey Affleck. The film's villains too are nicely drawn and are never quite what you expect them to be. Indeed, in terms of characterisation, ParaNorman draws from a more adult-or-teen-oriented cloth than is typical for your average kids film.

The films also strikes a nice balance between the various genres from which it draws, as it moves seamlessly between wild adventure, witty teen-drama, tragedy and Evil-Dead-inspired knockabout horror-comedy. In its breathlessly paced 90 minutes, it ramps up from being a quirky comedy about a kid who sees dead people to a surprisingly poignant, yet endlessly exciting (and gorgeous-looking) climax and along the way has some space for some limb-rendingly gleeful monster bashing, careening car chases and even some smartly judged plot twists.

It certainly isn't hurt by having Brave not being up to Pixar at its best, but ParaNorman easily earns its place at the top of this year's animated-feature pile and is a must see for adults and (slightly older) kids alike – particularly those who love their spectacular animation served with just a dash of the comically macabre.


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