An underrated treat from an overlooked studio
By Jose Anguiano – Cinematic Bandicoot
October 8th, 2022
Laika is one of the most underrated animation companies working in Hollywood today.
Part of this is due to their commitment to stop motion animation as opposed to mainstream computer animation, as evident by their gradually decreasing box office.
Following the success of “Coraline” in 2009, Laika released their sophomore outing “ParaNorman” in 2012 about a boy who can communicate with the dead to save his town from a witch’s curse.
This year marks its 10th anniversary, which makes it prime for a revisit after the studio expanded their horizons with “The Boxtrolls, “Kubo and the Two Strings” and “Missing Link.”
Writer/codirector Chris Butler has a passion for shows like “Scooby Doo” as the spooky content and adult jokes push the PG rating off a cliff, unlike “Inside Out”.
The first half play with expectations by starting out as a typical family movie: the lone outcast, the dysfunctional family, the quirky best friend, the dumb bully, and the teenage girl with a crush on the jock.
Norman himself is a serviceable lead which can be a deal breaker depending on one’s preference.
Those who want more development outside of his ostracism will be disappointed but given that he is a foil to the odd happenstances in the town, he gets the job done.
As the story progresses, all these cliches are subverted to give a new twist on the zombie apocalypse narrative with an out of the box resolution.
The story is a trailblazer for films like “Turning Red” and “Zootopia”, and it’s sad that it does not get the recognition it deserves.
For the animation, Laika combined various techniques that “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” popularized.
The cinematography by Nelson Lowry perfectly captures autumn in the northwest with faded greens, pale yellows, and foreboding purples when the sun goes down.
The character and background designs are intentionally off-putting to make the environment more abstract without a single straight line found in any citizen or building.
Some might find the color scheme bleak but that’s the point given the atmosphere.
For the zombies, the animators used practical dirt instead of digital effects to make their debut more believable when their limbs burst from the ground.
One scene involving toilet paper took an entire year to animate, according to animation historian Mat Brunet.
Given how time-consuming stop motion is, this raises so many questions on how the animators pulled off such dark magic.
The 3D color printed puppets evolved the art form ahead of what Aardman accomplished that same year with “The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists” – More detailing, more colors, more diverse anatomies, and more abstract visuals.
The witch herself is one of the best technical achievements in animation with a combination of stop-motion for her head, computer animation for the lightning effects, and hand-drawn animation for her horrifying expressions.
It’s as if the Klasky Csupo style translated to stop motion, looking better than the “Rugrats” reboot.
Even after a decade, “ParaNorman” remains an underrated Halloween classic, and hopefully it gets more attention compared to its initial box-office earnings.
While Laika did not adapt other Neil Gaiman stories, their ability to combine classic art form with inventive narratives makes them stand out from computer animated studios like Pixar and Dreamworks in an industry that has less appreciation for a more time-consuming process.
On a final note, if the audience reacts negatively to a last-minute character twist, then they do not understand the story’s moral.