I am not usually into serious zombie movies or television series. I am not a particular fan of The Walking Dead or The Night of the Living Dead. I do allow exceptions for, say, the Resident Evil series, or perhaps something funny like Shaun of the Dead. So the first time I saw Paranorman probably about half a dozen years ago, I wasn’t expecting much. Thankfully I did not let my biases creep in, and to be honest, quite enjoyed myself. So I was very excited when I saw the 4K slide across my desk. Let’s dive in.
This is a feature presentation. We join a horror movie already in progress. There are monsters, lost of squishy stuff, and some bloodcurdling screams. Then the zombie goes munch munch on the brain matter of the blonde heroine. Rumor was that it was far from satisfying.
We pan back to Grandma (voiced by Elaine Stritch) who is asking young Norman Babock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) what’s happening now, and he proceeds to describe the action. After a few minutes, Norman leaves to go into the kitchen. His mom, Sandra (voiced by Leslie Mann) asks him what is wrong, and before he can answer, his father, Perry (voiced by Jeff Garlin) tells him to take out the garbage. He picks up the trash and starts to head out and runs into his sister, Courtney (voiced by Anna Kendrick). The boy then remembers to ask his dad if they can turn up the heat for Grandma since she is cold. They all gasp, because Grandma is dead.
As it turns out, Norman sees lots of dead people, or spirits as they were. His parents and sister tell him to move on, but he can’t, mostly because he can still see she’s right there in the living room. The parents proceed to argue while the boy goes to his room. Perry and Sandra also compare him to his uncle but quickly stop since they don’t want him to hear. That’s when we cut to Mr. Prenderghast (voiced by John Goodman) in another part of the town, who is mumbling to himself “Not Much Time.” Cut to the title splash screen.
We return with a zombie alarm clock ringing. Must be time for school. Norman gets ready, says goodbye to Grandma, and then walks to school. On the way, Norman says hi to every spirit, some human and some animal, that he sees in Blithe Hollow. He makes it to school and is immediately pushed by some of the other boys. He gets up and thinks he sees someone, but then he turns around and that someone is gone.
In the following scene, Norman is working on a play with his classmates. All of the sudden the walls burn, and the kids turn into ghosts. He shakes his head and everything goes back to normal. Later on after school, Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi) tries to befriend young Norman, and all of asudden a nearby statue “pssts” at him. Then Uncle Prenderghast appears from behind the statue. Norman says he is not supposed to talk to him. Prenderghast says the “Witch’s Curse” is real and Norman has to stop it. He must use his gift. The uncle then tells Norman to watch for the sign and then runs away. After all, Neil was going to use the spicy hummus.
The true meat of this film is when the witch’s curse actually comes true and the zombies do rise out of the grave. From that point, it is up to Norman, his sister Courtney, Neil, and others to take on the seemingly evil spirits and return Blithe Hollow to the tourist trap of a town that it is. It’s a wonderfully brilliant film that actually gets better with each viewing thanks to a creative collection of characters and well-used horror/suspense tropes and homages that make the viewer feel at home, but as the viewer you are vested in the plot and action on screen.
It’s a very tight film, too, as it does not overstay it’s welcome, and the creators did a great job with pacing throughout the entire film. It had story, it had action and comedic moments all at what felt to be the right time and then wraps it up with a bow to get to the credits. Maybe I wanted a few more minutes out of pure selfishness, but considering we even got a worthy backstory to explain why the zombies were there in the first place, it’s hard to say. Kids might have a hard time with some of the scary stuff, but that’s really it in this fine movie.
This movie is filmed in a 2.40:1 aspect widescreen format. The disc supports HDR and Dolby Vision. It is running about 90 mpbs, and is nicely on a BD-100 disc. It is also native 4K and not an upconvert. Much like the Coraline disc, there is a ton to love here, and is reference quality. The people of Blithe Hollow have marvelous detail, and the fact that this “town” was built from the group up really shows up in the neatest places. The zombies also have a lot of detail despite the fact that some of them had to be computer rendered in order to keep things civil, so to speak.
A lot of this movie is in the dark with the kids running away from the zombies. Due to careful lighting at every turn, detail is not lost, and this movie gains a lot from from that production value. Occasionally in what I’m guessing are computer-generated shots (during the chase scene especially), there is some softness that does rear its head. It’s minor, but it’s something I’m guessing comes more from limitations of the shot than actual 4K rendering quality.
The sound to this film is presented in English Dolby ATMOS (French and Spanish 5.1 are also available) with English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles. There is also a 5.1 English DVS track as well. Speaking of the car chase scene, I don’t remember the original sequence being up the caliber of say something from the Fast and Furious franchise. It’s powerful in all of the right places, and much again like Coraline, really stands out.
There are no issues with the dialog clarity in this film. Surround effects are plentiful and aggressive but not overindulgent. Music or rather the score also plays an important part in the film and comes through better than ever before. I did have to turn it down a few times for the “high energy” scenes, but overall an amazing track.
Note: All Extras are on the Blu-ray disc. The only exception to this rule is that the commentary appears on both the UHD and Blu-ray discs.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Chris Butler and Co-Director Sam Fell: A very spirited commentary with two people who really capture the soul of the film. They both talk a lot about how the movie was made and all of the various horror movie references that they used when creating this picture. Certainly a worthwhile listen, and if you only take the time to watch one extra, this is the only one to consider.
Inside Laika – Discovering the Characters and Effects of Paranorman Featuring Rare Test Footage 12:51: This feature focuses a lot on determining where practical effects (stop-motion puppet work) and visual effects (CGI) are able to be mixed in order to achieve Paranorman‘s look and feel. Keep in mind, most of Paranorman are practical effects including the town which was actually built (the set display is quite impressive), and most of the puppets are the same. However, there were some things like the mob and parts of the car chase scene where stop-motion technology was no longer practical to make this work.
Inside Laika – Revisiting the Puppets w/ Laika’s Animation Team 10:13: Split into six parts for six different characters such as Norman, Neil, Mr Penderghast, and more. Basically they show the puppet they worked with and all the points of articulation. Works of art for sure.
Feature Length Storyboards 1:32:03: If you want to see Paranorman with a whole bunch of storyboards and other drawings, well, then this feature is for you. Naturally it’s probably best that this is watched after a few viewings.
Peering Through The Veil: Behind the Scenes of Paranorman 40:41: This is split into about nine sections and covers a ton of topics including Creating a World, Voicing Paranorman, Building Characters, Bringing the Undead to Life, and more. Very complete, but a bit on the rapid-fire side. Wish they would have spent more time on a few of these items.
You Don’t Become a Hero By Being Normal 2:43: This spends a lot of time with the creators and animators of this movie and how many of them didn’t grow up “normal”. It talks about how they were a little different and how the stories/plot lines of Norman’s school life related to them. #WeirdWins
A Norman Childhood 2:03: Chris Butler talks about his time in school. They were the “best years” in his life. Not really.
Playing as a Profession 2:18: Sam Fell talks about how working on the set made him feel like a kid again. Essentially they are playing with dolls, and they even show him working with his kid. There are some life goals right there.
Making Norman 1:34: This is how they built Norman (model), real quickly like.
This Little Light 1:15: Those lights aren’t going to make themselves. Glass Blowing is always fun.
Have You Ever Seen a Ghost? 2:11: We get a few members of the cast and crew sharing some personal ghost stories.
The Zombies of Paranorman 2:14: We get to learn how the zombies were made. Also, they draw their line in the sand and no fast zombies. (Agreed.)
Still Galleries 6:17: Split into three sections of 25 pictures each, we get Character Art, Concept Art, and finally Behind the Scenes. Lots of fun items to go through and will auto-play as needed.
Trailer 1:33: Finally, we get the trailer to round out the extras. This will probably come in a bit loud; just be forewarned.
Paranorman isn’t the most profitable of all of the LAIKA films (that’s Coraline). It’s not the best reviewed of the series, either (that’s Kubo and the Two Strings). It’s certainly not the most quirky or the most underrated. Then what is this stop-motion zombie movie? It is one of the most down-to-earth films you will find. Which sounds strange, but Paranorman is full of heart and shows the struggles of a young boy who is trying to find acceptance for his “gifts”. There is a lesson in the film for all the kids who weren’t accepted in school who never had the “normal” friends and were bullied, sometimes constantly. Norman matters, and so does the geek/nerd in all of us.
This fantastic steelbook package contains some amazing video and audio presentations. The extras are way too short for my taste but still provide lots of good information and insight into the movie. I simply cannot wait for Kubo and the Two Strings or Boxtrolls on 4K, as they have already been announced for early next year. Maybe we’ll get a surprise announcement for Missing Link on 4K as well, which I have never seen. Paranorman gets an easy recommendation, and it’s just as good as Coraline, honestly. A great thanks again to Shout Factory for this wonderful package, and enjoy.