Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Frank Review of "ParaNorman 3D" (2012)

The Short Version? Dreamworks of the Dead
What Is It? Stop motion horror-comedy
Who Is In It? Kodi Smit-McPhee, Casey Affleck, Tempestt Bledsoe, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, Bernard Hill, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Tucker Albrizzi, Alex Borstein, Jodelle Ferland, and Elaine Stritch.
Should I See It? Maybe.

I saw Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within in the theater back in 2001. It was a highly derivative work; its obvious influences worn on its sleeve. I ended up enjoying it more than most people though, from the state-of-the-art animation to the curious theological template, not to mention the metaphysical downer ending. The filmmakers wanted it to be so much more than they were capable of delivering; their ambition was plain, but so were their characters and the basic plot. It was a high quality, thoroughly impressive bad movie.

I want to like ParaNorman more than I do. The animation is peachy, the voice acting solid, there are some great gags, and the 3D works more often than not. The designs are awfully familiar though, and the characters they represent threadbare. Nobody really gets an arc, at least none lighter than leaden, and balls get dropped left and right (like, where did all the ghosts disappear to at sundown, and what purpose did they serve beyond establishing Norman's gift/curse?) To a large degree, ParaNorman seems to exist to evoke movies I really like in a kid-friendly PG way. The film is darker than you'd expect, and it also gets a bit trippy toward the end. At the same time, a lot of the humor is low, the characters are more types than people, it really starts to drag on, and the morals are ham-fisted. As much as I liked the horror movie references and general attitude of the film, I was too conscious of the compulsion to homage, and too emotionally disconnected from the proceedings. From the Grindhouse riffing opening to the closing that recalled last year's Fright Night, this felt like a collection of other people's art. It needed more ambition, because as it stands, it's on the nakedly pandering side of the kids' animation spectrum. I can't think of a flick of its kind more geared toward my personal interests, and I can't think of a movie of its kind I've been less moved by in recent memory. Monsters vs Aliens? Still, there were a slew of 3D trailers ahead of the flick, and I'd rather see the safe, sweet, and mildly scary ParaNorman again than suffer through another one of Tim Burton's suburban goth yarns like Frankenweenie, or more friggin' Middle Earth boredom. There was that Despicable Me sequel teaser, however...

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