I sat in on the ParaNorman panel yesterday and got a good look at the 3D stop-motion film from Laika Entertainment. I definitely dug what I saw. The footage is visually great with a really bright, fresh, fun look to it. It looked like a world I wouldn't mind inhabiting for a couple of hours. There were some great laughs and charming kid-scares, although the tone was just a touch too silly for my tastes. But it doesn't seem like ParaNorman is dumbing anything down for its intended audience, and I really like the theme of the film.
Norman is a weird kid, a little bit of an outsider. He's into some harmless occult stuff and he doesn't really fit in with anyone his age. But he has a whole host of ghost buddies who talk to him every day on his way to and from school. Norman finds out that his town is cursed and he must tackle a bunch of zombies and other supernatural baddies in order to save everyone he knows. I love how strange and nerdy Norman is. He's a solitary little oddball, and I like that ParaNorman makes the case that it's okay to be an oddball.
Norman's voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road, Let Me In) and Anna Kendrick is his disdainful older sister Courtney. Norman's bullied by a little prick named Alvin, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse. The three actors attended the panel, as did lead animator Travis Knight, director Sam Fell and writer/director Chris Butler.
Butler said that he and Fell wanted to create, essentially, a zombie movie for kids: "John Carpenter meets John Hughes." They thought stop-motion would be the coolest way to do that, and they created an amalgam of a coming of age movie, a sort of Spielberg Amblin thing, and horror. The influences are Goonies, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Stand By Me - or as Fell said, "Basically we're just listing every '80s movie ever now."
It is a coming of age film, and Smit-McPhee actually came of age while filming it. His voice started dropping near the end of filming, and he sounds utterly different from the clear-voiced little Norman. He said, "If someone on the street said, 'Hey, you're the guy who did ParaNorman!' I would have literally no way of proving to them that it's true."
Kendrick had never done any animation before, and when they visited the ParaNorman set in Oregon, she marveled at all the detail of this tiny village - little bits of visual color that audiences will never even get to see in the movie. She said she got to stomp around the set like Godzilla after filming wrapped, which sounds pretty damn fun. And Mintz-Plasse pointed out that Alvin actually looks just like a big, fat version of himself; that's sort of a weird thing to see.
I got to interview the actors and directors, so stay tuned for some footage of that in the next day or two. The movie looks really fun, and "Breakfast Club meets The Fog" is definitely a scene I can get behind.