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Have you ever wondered what it’s like to speak to the dead? Norman Babcock, a misunderstood child with spiky hair and the strange gift to speak to ghosts, is constantly teased, bullied, and shunned by the people of his town. One bully named Alvin in particular, constantly calls him a freak. Only Neil Downe, a kid teased about his obesity, can understand Norman. Norman’s father, Perry, thinks that there is something wrong with Norman when he tells him that the spirit of Norman’s grandma lives in their house. But Norman realizes that something seems eerie after his uncle, Mr. Prenderghast, suddenly dies. His uncle’s ghost reveals to him about a centuries-old witch’s curse that raises the dead to attack the townsfolk. Norman is the only person with the power to end the witch’s curse, but will he have the intellect and the courage to save the town?
I really enjoyed this film, and can relate to Norman because I have been bullied before, like most people, for being different. The film is very emotional and about proving one’s inner power. I am really impressed by how the animators created the film out of stop motion! I marveled at the intricate metal skeleton design of the assembly for the puppets used for the making of the film.
Laika is the animation studio that created Coraline (the Oscar-nominated first stop-motion feature) and ParaNorman. I noticed that both films are about kids who are different and discover the supernatural. Watching ParaNorman reminds me of another movie, How to Train Your Dragon” because the main characters are both different but with true power inside.
I had the privilege to attend the film’s Hollywood press junket and interview Travis Knight, the producer and lead animator of ParaNorman, who also heads Laika. I also interviewed the Co-Directors of ParaNorman, Chris Butler and Sam Fell. I shared my ParaNorman drawing with them, and was thrilled to get their original drawings too on my special animator sketchbook! Chris and Sam also autographed the companion book, “The Art and Making of ParaNorman” for me. According to the book, ParaNorman is the first stop-motion feature to use a 3-D color printer to create character faces.
I met Travis Knight first at the 2010 Comic-Con after his panel discussion. Travis explained how the characters move depends on the type of scene, whether it’s scary, funny, or exciting. He told me that Laika’s two feature films, Coraline and ParaNorman, are stop motion because most of their animators specialize in stop motion, but they hope to incorporate CG and other forms of animation in their future films. Travis gave expert advice by telling me that the key to character design is to take inspiration from those you admire to form your own unique voice. Travis loved my moral for the film (see below), and gave me his version too: “Don’t judge a book by its cover; things are more than what they appear. Be yourself and embrace those unique gifts you have because they give you the ability to contribute something special to the world.”
After my interview with Travis, I had a talk with co-directors Chris Butler (who also wrote the script), and Sam Fell. Story ideas usually hit the creators at unexpected times, like while they are using the restroom, or when they are about to fall asleep, so they write down notes on pieces of paper. When Chris was a kid, he watched horror films, and drew inspiration from them. Also, he could relate to Norman, because he was shy, awkward, didn’t fit in, bullied often as a kid, and hated school. So Norman was inspired from Chris’s life as a young boy.
When I told Chris and Sam that I am making my 4th animation film, they gave some great advice for me and other young aspiring filmmakers. “Stories from real life are some of the best ones. If you have a strong idea and a story worth telling, don’t be bogged down with technology. Start with pencil and paper to draw out the storyboard. Make it simple. If the story is good enough, it will work out sooner or later. Animation industry is not an easy one to break in, but never give up.”
I give ParaNorman 4 starfish. It’s “Perrific™!” The only things that I think the directors could improve on were explaining why Norman had an obsession with zombies. He had countless pieces of zombie apparel, like alarm clocks, slippers, toothbrushes, and posters that littered his room. In the Press Junket, the directors explained that Norman’s Grandmother had bought the gifts for him, but I wish that they had shown that in the film. Also, I wondered why the zombies from the 1700s would not have rotted away over 300 years, but the directors responded by saying, “They are dried zombies like the mummy. It looks cooler…we don’t want it to be too gross.”
I recommend ParaNorman to audience age 8 and up because younger kids may find the film scary. Watch trailer here: http://www.paranorman.com
Moral: People fear what they don’t understand.
Forgiveness is more powerful than revenge.
Perry Chen is the youngest award-winning film/ entertainment critic & animator, artist, speaker, and entertainment personality. He started writing movie reviews at 8 using a kid-friendly starfish rating system, under the guidance of his mom Dr. Zhu Shen and his 3rd grade teacher Ms. Harris. Perry’s debut on the CBS Evening News in 2009 made him a national sensation. He has been featured extensively on local, national, and international media, including NPR, Fox, CNN, NBC, The Guardian, The China Press, and many more. He has interviewed prominent filmmakers at film festivals, red carpet premieres, and press junkets. He won a prestigious “Excellence in Journalism Award” at the San Diego Press Club in 2010 as its youngest member. Perry currently writes movie reviews for the Animation World Network, San Diego Union Tribune, Amazing Kids! Magazine, and his own Perry’s Previews website with a combined readership of over 2 million worldwide. Perry and his family live in the community of Carmel Valley San Diego.
Dr. Zhu Shen’s love for the movies started when she was a young girl, growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution where watching movies was the only entertainment available to the masses. Her journey to become a filmmaker took a convoluted path. She studied medicine at Peking Union Medical College before coming to the US and earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry from University of Colorado, and then an MBA from Cornell University’s Johnson School. She is a producer of the upcoming documentary feature “Average Joe on the Raw,” about journey into raw food and health. Dr. Shen is also an award-winning biotech executive, author, speaker, China business expert featured on national and trade media including CBS, Fox, Business Week, Pharmaceutical Executive, and more. She has worked at IBM, Bayer, Chiron, Immusol, and is the CEO of BioForesight, consulting on cross-Pacific life science business. *Photos of Perry Chen and Zhu Shen by Brian Bostrom.