75% of the children’s movies released nowadays are pure shit. I hate to be so blunt but when crap like Ice Age, Alvin and The Chipmunks, The Smurfs and more like it are released and make millions upon millions I have to question the taste of the younger folk, and the parents, of the current generation. They offer no redeeming values, only crude jokes and boring sight gags. But while the IQ levels of kids’ movies continue to drop, production company Laika doesn’t seem willing to pander to children. Each of their films seems to be engineered to not only teach an important life lesson to the kids, but make sure that the parents taking their young ones to see their films are entertained on a whole other level.
Norman is a child who can see the ghosts that surround us all the time. No one believes that he actually sees what he claims to see including his own family. When a local hobo tells him to read a story aloud to quell the spirit that supposedly cursed their town a century ago, he accidentally unleashes her wrath and a number of zombies that only he can stop.
The stop-motion animation here is top notch. With each film Laika releases their technique seems to improve exponentially (Coraline was their first feature). The characters move fluidly and the filmmakers are able to pull off some pretty complex camerawork as well. The lighting is also extremely moody and gives this movie a unique edge. It's truly one of the most visually stunning stop-motion animation movies I've ever seen.
The voice cast is also pretty amazing. Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In) plays the loner title character and lends him more than just his voice, but a personality. You can see why in the end he’s able to talk people into doing what they do because he gives the character his heart. However, Tucker Albrizzi, who voices Norman’s friend Neil, steals the show with his goofy performance. The rest of the cast features Jeff Garland, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck (I had no idea it was him until the end credits), Bernard Hill, Jodelle Ferland, Leslie Mann, John Goodman, Tempestt Bledsoe (?!) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (had no idea it was him either), and they give their all to their characters.
The story is dark and violent and goes to places I never expected them to for a movie marketed toward kids. Coraline tread down this path as well, and was just as successful. I’m sure the younger children found the subject matter frightening in the extreme (there are some pretty freaky things going on in these films), but Laika is making these more for the early teenager crowd and not grade schoolers. However, the morale of not being judgmental toward people who may act differently than the rest of society is a lesson people of any age can learn from.
It’s also a nice coming-of-age story for the main protagonist, who defies adversity to do the right thing and earns the respect of his peers. It’s handled well through some scares and some off-kilter humor that took me by surprise.
The story takes a little while to get going, just like Coraline before it, and I’m sure it bored some of the younger audience members. I know I was getting anxious for something of note to happen for the first 20 minutes, but nothing came. Some of the characters, like John Goodman’s crazy hobo, are a little annoying and throw off the subdued nature of the film. But once the zombies begin to show up the flick takes off and never really slows down. Laika pulled out all the stops to give audiences a visual feast for the Halloween season and they do not disappoint.
I really do not want to take anything away from anyone’s first viewing of the film by going into any more detail. I knew next to nothing about this film upon renting it other than it’s reputation, and I’d like to make sure those of you who haven’t seen it yet that read this blog go into it with a blank slate as well. It may not be a perfect film, but it has balls for a movie aimed toward kids and a positive message at its core that anyone can get behind. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.
4 out of 5