Book Review: The Art and Making of ParaNorman
These glossy, coffee-table animation-art books usually focus upon CGI or traditional 2-D animation features. The Art and Making of ParaNorman is unusual in that it is about a stop-motion animation feature, and it really goes in-depth to show the considerable differences and complexity of a full stop-motion feature utilizing LAIKA’s unique techniques.
How does this differ from other deluxe making-of animation-art books? Superficially, not too much. The Art and Making of ParaNorman has been made with the full cooperation of the LAIKA stop-motion animation studio in Portland, Oregon, as the other animation-art books are made with the full input of their production studios. The book has a Preface by Travis Knight, LAIKA’s president and CEO, and the producer and lead animator of ParaNorman. There are two Forewords, by the writer/director of ParaNorman and by the director of ParaNorman – why not just call them co-directors?
ParaNorman in 3-D is released on August 17. It would seem to be an excellent Halloween feature, but it was deliberately set earlier. “Originally the story was set around Halloween, but we brought it back to early fall. I was excited about the way the green drains out of the trees just before they turn orange and red, so our green is not super vibrant; it’s a late summer green with splashes of color as the leaves start to turn.” Nelson Lowry, production designer (p. 95). Advertised as “the new animated zombie comedy from LAIKA”, and with the catchphrase “It's all fun and games until someone raises the dead”, its protagonist is 11-year-old Norman Babcock, the only person in the quaint New England town of Blithe Hollow who can talk with the dead. All of the time. He spends more time talking with ghosts than with the living, because they all buttonhole him with messages to be passed on to loved ones, or to perform the last deed (such as to return a library book) that will allow them to rest in peace. The ghosts include animals as well as humans, such as Neil’s “two-part” ghost-dog. (There seems to be a discrepancy here between the book and the movie. The book refers to the ghost-dog as Philbert, while on the official ParaNorman website he is Bub.) Nobody else can see the ghosts, so Norman gets the reputation of “Ab-Norman”, the “ghoul whisperer”, the crazy kid who ODs on horror movies and imagines that he talks to the dead. He is looked down upon by his father who wants a normal sports-loving son, and Courtney, his boy-crazy older sister who never misses an opportunity to humiliate him in public. He is the favorite target of Alvin, the Blithe Hollow Middle School bully. Chubby Neil Downe wants to be Norman’s best friend, but Norman is so used to being laughed at by the people of Blithe Hollow that he brushes off Neil’s overtures of friendship.
Blithe Hollow’s one claim to fame is that it was the locale of a famous witch’s trial in the days of King James II over 300 years ago. The modern town has adopted kitschy witchcraft as its theme, on posters and T-shirts and a statue of a witch in the town square. The Middle School’s class play is “The Witch’s Curse”, and the local fast-food restaurant is Witchy Wiener. But nobody takes the witchcraft seriously.
It turns out that the town has a 300-year-old curse put on it by the real witch. Every year since then a secret exorcism, the reading of passages from an ancient book over the witch’s grave, has been performed to defer the curse for another year. For longer than he has been alive, it has been the mission of Norman’s “crazy” uncle Prenderghast (who can also talk with ghosts), whom his father has refused to let him associate with, to read from the book. When his uncle dies before passing on to Norman the secret of how to block the curse, all Hell starts to break out. Mr. Prenderghast’s ghost tells Norman the whole story, but by then nobody will believe him. As 300 years of skeletons and zombies of the dead in Blithe Hollow rise from their graves, and the witch returns, all the grown-ups about him panic. Norman and his adolescent associates – nerdy Neil, brainy girl Salma, Neil’s hunky older brother Mitch because he has a van, Courtney who follows Mitch, and even Alvin who connects the zombies with Norman -- must figure out how to find the ancient book, locate the 300-year-old witch’s grave, and read the exorcism to her.