ParaNorman: John Carpenter Meets John Hughes
What a difference since I last visited Laika four years ago for the Oscar-nominated Coraline. Everything about the stop-motion craft has improved with the ParaNorman zombie fest (opening Aug. 17). The Rapid Protype Printing (RPP) overseen by Brian McLean now has color, allowing faster face replacement with greater articulation; the puppet fabrication under the supervision of the masterful Georgina Hayns is much more tactile (wait till you get a load of Norman's hair); the costume design by the intrepid Deborah Cook stitches together every conceivable fabric you could imagine; the rigging from Oliver Jones is more naturalistic, as is the lighting from Tristan Oliver; and the sets supervised by the resourceful production designer Nelson Lowry evoke a timeless New England that's bucolic yet foreboding.
As director Chris Butler suggests, ParaNorman is "John Carpenter meets John Hughes." But after nurturing his first feature for 12 years, Butler thinks "John Hughes is the best reference here because he always used comedy but there was a strong emotional current underneath. And that's the biggest part of this: you care about Norman."
Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a social misfit bullied in school that communicates with the dead and is the only person to combat the zombies, witches and ghosts that haunt his town.
"They're a great combination of flavors because, if you're making this as a family film, the comedy really tempers that horror stuff," adds co-director Sam Fell, who was thrilled to return to his stop-motion roots.
This seems like the perfect follow-up to Coraline, only ParaNorman is more skewed naturalism than quirky theatricality. No wonder Laika president/CEO Travis Knight still gets his hands dirty as lead animator. How could he resist playing with zombie puppets?
"This particular story really spoke to me and I think it has great resonance with the crew here," Knight explains beside a beautiful meadow set. "I think the story of ParaNorman in large part is about the people who are making it. It's this story of outsiders -- people who are marginalized for what they are and what they represent. But, also, at the same time, these people have extraordinary gifts, and that's true of Norman and this crew here. Because of that core, I absolutely had to be involved. We all found each other in the land of misfit toys."