May 8, 2015

Alternative to What: "ParaNorman" (2012)

Welcome to Alternative to What: a weekly column that tries to find a great alternative to driving to the multiplexes. Based on releases of that week, the selections will either be thematically related or feature recurring cast and crew. The goal is to help you better understand the diversity of cinema and hopefully find you some favorites while saving a few bucks. At worse, this column will save you money. Expect each installment to come out on Fridays, unless specified. 

THIS WEEK:
ParaNorman (2012)
- Alternative To -
Maggie (2015)

It seems impossible to escape the world of zombie culture nowadays. With The Walking Dead being one of the most successful shows on TV, there's a never-ending need for more and more. As a result, one of the odder tales spring forth this weekend with the release of Maggie in which Arnold Schwarzenegger stands by his daughter as she turns into a zombie. It is a profoundly odd tale to share, but one that has been turning heads as well from the action star actor. Though it does raise the question: when will the zombie bubble burst? For now, it doesn't seem like it will as long as there's ways to make it interpersonal.
One of the best examples from recent years was a stop motion animation film called ParaNorman, which isn't directly a zombie film, but incorporates them as other characters. To summarize, there's a lot of supernatural elements in the film and its protagonist Norman has an easy time seeing ghosts. There are girls with superpowers and zombies are running rampant. It is a loving homage to b-movie culture with metaphors that are more universal than the average walking dead story allows for. It is visually appetizing and creates a visceral experience for the audience.
For starters, it is one of the funnest children's movies that have been produced in the past few years. Yes, How to Train Your Dragon has shown the heights of CGI, but ParaNorman shows the way in which tried and true techniques can produce something equally kinetic and arguably just as enjoyable. In fact, the technique is far more impressive considering that it is a mixture of styles that helps to create its fluid, lanky look that plays out like an action-packed Scooby Doo episode. The film may not be as emotionally complex as Maggie presumably will be, but it hits the adrenaline and the heart at the same time in ways that are incomparable.


If anything, there's evidence here in that stop motion films can have just as much fun as live action films. LAIKA has done great work in bringing the technique back by making three vastly different films that capture the imagination and manages to unlock something greater in cinema. While some would argue that Coraline is just as great, if not greater, my favorite of theirs remains ParaNorman, which is a film about outcasts that seems predicated on appealing to the demographic. It is edgy, progressive, full of references, and allows for something more tangible in the monster movies of which it is riffing. However, it is never a distracting tactic.
I am unsure if Maggie will end up being a great movie. Maybe Schwarzenegger will prove to have an emotional range that I was unaware of. However, it does add an interesting twist to a genre that has grown, much like their monsters, stale. Even then, there still manages to be a few here and there that pop with life and prove why we keep coming back to these stories. In the case of ParaNorman, it is proof that zombies aren't reserved to adult entertainment. Kids can enjoy them and have the same sensationalized ride that older audiences can have. For that, this is a film that has no age limits and ends up being one of the more intriguing animated films in recent years.

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