ParaNorman has emerged onto Blu-ray both in 2D and 3D this week in an edition that spotlights this unusual film in the best way possible. The movie, which focuses on a young boy who can see the dead a la The Sixth Sense has a truly interesting idea at its core. Unfortunately, that idea doesn’t become clear for far too long, meaning that there’s an extra-long windup before we really have a solid skeleton of a story to follow. The movie is a strange hybrid of animation processes, combining traditional stop motion work with hand drawn animation and CGI, and presenting all of that in 3D in the full version. The last film to try something like this was Coraline, which was a lot more successful at it. Here, the visual rewards are fewer, although there are some great moments along the way. The Blu-ray will make for a curiosity rental for 3D and stop motion fans.
Studio: Universal/Focus Features/Laika
Length: 1 hr 33 mins
Genre: Stop Motion Animation/Comedy/Living Dead/3D
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, (AVC @ 25 mbps on the 2D) (MVC @ 25/17 mbps on the 3D)
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.3 mbps, up to 5.1 mbps), Spanish DTS 5.1, French DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Content Rating: PG (Scary Action and Images, Thematic Elements, Some Rude Humor and Language)
Release Date: November 27, 2012
Starring: The Voices of: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill and John Goodman
Screenplay by: Chris Butler
Story by: Arianne Sutner and Stephen Stone
Directed by: Sam Fell and Chris Butler
Film Rating: 3/5
ParaNorman is not exactly what it appears to be. If you watch the trailer, you’d likely think this was a new kid-friendly stop-motion animation comedy about a little boy who sees dead people. And part of that is true. The movie is about little Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who indeed sees and talks to spirits of the dead on a regular basis. There’s a flavor to the movie of trying to keep the storytelling appropriate for younger children – what with the all the child characters, almost all of whom are the usual caricatures of school kids. But there’s also something far darker going on here. Without spoiling anything serious, I’ll say that the movie centers on Norman’s ability being the key to his Salem-like hometown’s salvation from a terrible curse that involves witchcraft and the raising of the dead. There’s some fairly serious and unpleasant ramifications in the story which to my mind take it past the PG rating and more properly to a PG-13. I recommend any parents who are planning to watch this with their children keep that in mind. Past that, I’ll also say that between the 3D and the 2D editions available for this movie, I’d recommend the 3D – although not for the reason you might think. The 3D edition doesn’t actually have a lot of depth for much of the movie. When we get to the big climax, the 3D really does kick in, but even then it’s nowhere near the levels of depth seen in other titles. This is a more subtle 3D experience, to say the least.
MAJOR SPOILERS HERE: My issue with the movie is that it takes a long time to set up its main idea – that Norman must save his town from a witch’s curse from long ago, and then takes a longer time to get to the real idea lurking underneath the main thread. For around an hour, we get an extended introduction to Norman and his town, including an extended look at how badly the kids at school and even his own sister treat him. When the task of saving the town is handed to Norman, we then spend another long period watching Norman fumble with the responsibility, with the result that the witch “wakes up” and proceeds to raise the dead – namely the seven town elders who had her executed back in the 18th century. A lot of the usual horror and zombie movie memes are played out to comic effect as Norman and his growing band of friends and helpers alternately run from the walking dead and race to find the actual resting place of the witch to effectively read her to sleep. And at about an hour or so into the 90 minutes, the movie finally shows the main card of the story – that the evil witch was actually a little girl about Norman’s age, with the same abilities. (And if you really pay attention, you’ll see that Norman is likely a descendant of hers…)
MORE MAJOR SPOILERS HERE: Once the audience knows that primary bit of information, the whole point of the film becomes clear, and it’s actually a strong one. What everyone has feared as a force of evil is actually the result of what ignorant people did to a gifted little girl and themselves when they executed her. This ties directly in with how everyone has treated Norman throughout the story and allows all the characters to have a real teachable moment before the story is done. If Norman can reach the little girl inside the angry spirit, the town really can be saved, in more ways than one. And that’s a good lesson for the movie to examine. But I’m not sure that the execution of an eleven-year old girl and the raising of the corpses of her executioners is quite PG material. The movie compounds this issue with a throwaway comic line about sexuality that feels a bit out of place.
NO MORE SPOILERS, SAFE TO READ NOW: The Blu-ray presentation of ParaNorman is available in a 2D edition and a 3D edition. Both editions come with a copy of the standard definition DVD as well. All three editions come with some preliminary animatics, a 40 minute “Making of” collection, and a 15 minute collection of shorter featurettes. Instructions and a code for downloading a digital copy and getting an Ultraviolet copy are included in the package.
VIDEO QUALITY 4/5
ParaNorman is presented in 2D in a 1080p AVC 2.40:1 transfer that shows a lot of detail to the stop-motion animation work – almost to the point that the viewer may actually be seeing a bit too much. There’s a lovely range of color and a great use of contrasts between dark environments and bright animation. But there are plenty of shots where the animation shows through in a less satisfying manner than has been seen in other presentations, like Coraline. In 3D, things get a bit more complicated. The 3D presentation is a two channel 1080p MVC affair that doesn’t provide a lot of depth for much of the movie. There’s some dimensionality, with some foreground elements brought out and with some layering here and there, but until the big theatrical moments start erupting, the 3D just doesn’t have a lot to do. Now, I said before that the 3D is actually my preferred way to see this film – and that’s because the 3D glasses and even the very subtle depth effects when they are present actually work to slightly obscure the image, thus making many dicey shots look a lot more effective than they really are.
AUDIO QUALITY 5/5
ParaNorman is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, as well as standard DTS mixes in Spanish and French. This is another fun mix, given that the sound designer is not only creating a really spooky landscape and working with a fine Jon Brion score, but is also playing some very interesting games with volume. At several points, major crescendos of sound will be immediately followed by the complete absence of any sound, followed again by a gradual adding back in of the atmospherics. This is nice stuff, indeed. This is not just the usual cattle-prod theatrics – there’s some real thought going into the mix here, and it is appreciated.
SPECIAL FEATURES 3 ½/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of ParaNorman comes several special features, including a scene-specific commentary, some pre-viz animations and two featurette collections.
My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.
BD-Live - This Blu-ray includes access to Universal’s BD-Live online site, allowing for the viewing of trailers online.
pocket BLU – This Blu-ray includes the usual pocket BLU functionality, enabling viewers with appropriate laptop, iPad or smart phone integration to remotely control their Blu-ray player and access some of the bonus content from the separate device. Also, a digital copy is available for download via the pocket BLU application.
D-Box – D-Box functionality is available on this disc for those viewers that have the capability in their home theaters.
Feature Commentary with Directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This scene-specific commentary with the directors is a fairly breezy affair. The two men talk at length about the various concepts they were examining and point out many details that might get overlooked on the first viewing. It’s also a pretty funny commentary, as the guys are clearly enjoying their movie and their time together. As a nice touch, the commentary is available on all versions of the movie,
Preliminary Animatic Sequences (9:09 Total, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – Three pre-viz sequences are presented here: “Walking With Ghosts”, “Bromance” and “Missing Ghosts”. The first one is the opening establisher of Norman walking to school and talking to the town dead along the way. The second two are deleted sequences that would have added more material to Norman’s friendship with another outcast kid and an unnecessary diversion about what happens to the town’s usual dead when the zombies come out of their graves. The sequences can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” option. The sequences can be viewed with optional commentary by the directors, or not.
Peering Through The Veil (40:49, 1080p) (AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This is a collection of nine featurettes: “That’s ParaNorman”, “Creating a World”, “Voicing ParaNorman”, “Building Characters”, “Making Faces”, “Rigging the Game”, “Bringing the Undead to Life”, “Angry Aggie” and “Weird and Wonderful”. Together, they provide a pretty thorough look at the making of the movie, from the creation of the stop-motion sets and characters to the adding of animation and CGI in post-production to the voiceover work. The featurettes can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” option.
Additional Featurettes (14:53, 1080p) (AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This is a shorter collection of seven featurettes, almost all of which are very quick: “You Don’t Become a Hero by Being Normal”, “A Norman Childhood”, “Playing as a Profession”, “Making Norman”, “This Little Light”, “Have You Ever Seen a Ghost?”, and “The Zombies of ParaNorman”. The featurettes can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” option.
DVD Copy – A second disc is included in the package, holding the standard definition DVD of the movie. It contains the movie presented in standard definition in an anamorphic 2.40:1 picture with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in English, French and Spanish (448 kbps). All of the special features from the Blu-ray are included on the standard definition DVD
Digital and Ultraviolet Copies – Instructions are included in the packaging for downloading a digital copy of the movie to your laptop or portable device, as well as for obtaining an Ultraviolet streaming copy to be placed up in the cloud. I did not see an expiration date for the code in the packaging, so this may be a new wrinkle in the land of digital copies in the Cloud... I note again that the pocket BLU online menu also includes an option for downloading the digital copy.
Subtitles are available for the film and the special features, in English, Spanish and French. A full chapter menu is available for the film.
IN THE END...
ParaNorman is a good movie, but not exactly the one viewers may be expecting. It’s another experiment in stop-action animation with a 3D application, and it doesn’t completely work as either. But there is a very interesting story here, once you can get to it. Fans of stop-motion should definitely rent this, as probably should fans of The Sixth Sense and other horror movies looking for something with some light in the darkness. I’m not sure that this is really a PG movie so much as a PG-13 movie, but discerning parents will be able to decide for themselves if the subject matter is appropriate for younger viewing. I want to be clear that I did enjoy this movie and the special features on this Blu-ray presentation – I just want readers to understand that this isn’t exactly the 3D animation spectacular or the children’s fantasy it appears to be.
November 29, 2012.
Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:
Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at ISF picture mode
-Set professionally calibrated by AVICAL in June 2012
Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver
Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player
PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)
5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)
2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)
Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer