Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my last bit of Con coverage for the night. Oddly, Paranorman was my first panel of the day, but it was a full day, so now I’m finally getting to Laika’s supernatural stop-frame animated flick hitting theaters next month.
To me, this year seems to be when stop motion throws its dick on the table. Frankenweenie looks gorgeous and crazy fun. Paranorman is likewise gorgeous, but in a radically different style. I have a set report to Laika that I’ll post here in a week or two that goes into detail on the truly massive artistic undertaking that is a stop frame movie, but suffice it to say that I was greatly impressed by the technique.
But technique isn’t want counts, is it? The movie could look like a trillion bucks, but if it’s a shit story it’s a shit story. You can’t truly get a full gauge on a movie from a few short clips, but you certainly can get a grasp of the tone.
In that respect, Paranorman is right up my alley. I grew up in the era when there was a market for scary movies for kids. Gremlins, Temple of Doom, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Black Cauldron, Watcher in the Woods, amongst others. I doubt Paranorman goes quite as dark as those films, but there’s a ton of Halloween imagery in there.
The story is about a little kid that is obsessed with horror, he has a zombie alarm clock that has arms reaching out of a mound of dirt and moans when it goes off (I. Want. One.), has the Halloween theme as his ringtone, horror posters up around his room… he also can see dead people.
It’s kind of a Frighteners thing. These ghosts aren’t really scary, more like friends. One of these ghosts warns Norman about a witches’ curse is about to wreck havoc on the town and he’s the only one that can stop it.
One of the scenes they showed was of Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) reading from the book that’s supposed to put a stop to the curse at the local gravesite when he’s interrupted by the school bully (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who takes the book and tauntingly keeps it out of reach as the sun sets and the clouds swirl behind him, forming the face of a screaming witch.
Green smoke hands race out of the witches’ mouth and into the ground around the two kids and then the Puritan zombies rise up out of the earth in a spectacular stop motion sequence that shows hundreds of pieces of rubble flying as these guys burst out of the ground.
Laika president (and animator) Travis Knight did this maybe 2 minute sequence and when it was over he said, “That’s a year of my life, everybody!”
Joining him on the panel were Mintz-Plasse, Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick and directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell.
Butler and Fell are very much in the “one of us” category. They threw out so many influences in the first 5 minutes that they had to stop themselves from just naming every late ‘70s and ‘80s movie as they described what went into ParaNorman. “John Carpenter meets John Hughes in an Amblin style ‘80s adventure story,” was their first one. The term “Ray Harryhausen on bath salts” also came up. I quite liked that one.
In terms of footage, they only showed one more extended scene featuring Anna Kendrick’s character, Norman’s sister, Casey Affleck’s meathead jock character and Norman in a Mystery Machine style van escaping from zombies attacking, not realizing the big bad Judge zombie is hitching a ride up top and a making of piece that was worth watching if only to see the crazy time-lapse photography of one of the animators working, seeing the puppets move as the animator Flash-like zoomed in and out of the frame.
The real fun part of the panel was just how raunchy everything got. There were Shake Weight jokes aimed at Kodi Smit-McPhee who was describing trying to get his jittery voice sound in the recording booth, a moment when a cute kid asked what Laika was doing next and Knight said (innocently) that he couldn’t tell her, but “come see me later and I’ll tell you in private,” which got a huge laugh and some “oooooooohhhhhh”s from the audience. Also, when talking about Norman’s eye-catching spiky hair, they mentioned it was made out of goat hair and that anybody can make hair look like that. “All you need is a goat and a camera.” Bang, another round of sick-minded laughter.
Then the not very good EW moderator had the best one when he asked the 16 year old Smit-McPhee “Kodi, do you want to finish us off?” then didn’t seem to understand why the audience murmured at that. I love a good double entendre, so I was all smiles and the crowd was surprisingly on board, too.
But there was some genuine cuteness, too, not just that mind-in-the-gutter stuff. Another adorable little girl approached the mic to ask a question dressed in a unicorn onesy. It immediately prompted “Awwwws” from the audience.
Those “awwwws” went into overdrive when she asked her question: “Why are the monsters so scary?” That got Anna Kendrick to do this:
Some fun bits from the Q&A that wasn’t ridiculously dirty or absurdly cute include Kendrick talking about visiting the Laika sets after they finished shooting and getting to “stomp around them like Godzilla” while she took tons of photos.
Smit-McPhee said that one big thing he brought to the part of Norman was that he was skinny. The character was originally fat, but they thought his voice matched a skinny character more, so changed the character and gave him a chubby buddy.
Sam Fell on stop frame animation: “It’s like catching lightning in a bottle… slowly… over three weeks.”
And finally, a fan asked Mintz-Plasse what’s up with Kick-Ass 2 and he said he’s pretty sure they’re close to locking in a start date and expects to begin filming this September. So, there you go.
That’s it for me. Sleepy time!