Stop motion is pretty much dead in mainstream cinema and cgi reigns over all. But now and then a stop motion flick pops out from the grave and stumbles around with a style that draws in the quiet crowd who are sick of having to put up with art house short films which deal with plasticine and plastic. ParaNorman is the latest in the rise, following Pirates! On An Adventure With Scientists and preceding Frankenweenie. Embrace the hoard, they don’t bite.
ParaNorman is about a young Norman who can see dead people. This is pretty normal fare for him, but everyone else feels it’s a touch weird, even his parents. He goes through life enjoying the company of all these ghouls, as the living people just won’t give him the time of day. Not until a witches curse breaks out one night and a set of zombies rise. Then they pay attention, as is always the case. The team who set out to stop this outbreak include Norman, his chubby friend Neil, brawn but no brains Mitch, bully Alvin and the snappy sister Courtney. Typical zombie movie fodder.
Zombies and stop motion sound like the best combination since tuna and egg mayo sandwiches, just imagine that low frame zombie shuffle, but it turns out to be a bit like a nacho thrown on a chicken burger. Pointless. The stop motion is so polished it may as well be full on cgi and everything moves far too smoothly. The film doesn’t have that home-made look which makes these type of films so appealing, and so ParaNorman ends up joining looking like any other summer kids flick. So a decent script and solid range of exciting set pieces is required.
But it falls flat here. The characters are one-dimensional, always pushing the same tired childish jokes (you Weiner!) and any development feels forced because that’s how these films are meant to roll. Have everyone except the fat kid detest Norman then make him a hero just because, and it doesn’t half preach about being different, when ultimately the characters are end up being incredibly normal apart from that one gift . The zombies fail to impress too as they don’t really engage in any exciting monster action, and the film never rises above mild danger. Stick that on the BBFC description! The film humanises them far too quickly and we’re left with a bunch of flat characters shambling around like the zombies they are. Or aren’t in some cases.
ParaNorman is a kids film which fits in well with the other dross filling up the cinema. It doesn’t treat the audience with any respect, instead thinking we’re all sat here like the undead. This is probably what stop motion films would mainly be like if they were as prominent as cgi creations. A scary thought indeed.