“There’s nothing wrong with being scared, Norman, so long as you don’t let it change who you are.”
The second feature from stop-motion supremos Laika, ParaNorman is perhaps a perfectly pitched family-friendly ghost story. Its scares are quick and sharp rather than the pervasive creepiness of Coraline’s other world and, although it features zombies, there is sufficient slapstick to undercut their horror. The titular Norman is a kid with the ability to speak to the dead, something that results in his ostracisation as a freak until he becomes the only one capable of saving the town. The derivative tale might kindly be described as “traditional”, with an interesting conclusion that revolves around the power of storytelling, a theme that Laika would explore further in the extraordinary Kubo and the Two Strings. Although the voice cast features a number of high profile names, unusually for animated fare they are not hired to be recognisable, only Christopher Mintz-Plasse being easily identifiable as Norman’s bully. The artistry of Laika’s character design is the highlight, eschewing the generically smooth features that pervade most animation for a distinctive and fresh appearance to each of their films.
“I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.”
An alternative coming-of-age film, the focus is Catholic high school girl Christine (who has adopted the name “Lady Bird”) and her turbulent relationship with her mother. This is an unusually well-realised mother/daughter relationship, in which they both know they love one another, yet their strong-willed personalities frequently grate. Saoirse Ronan deftly avoids portraying Lady Bird as quirky for its own sake, instead making it a believable element of her awkward teenage self-expression, whilst still anxious about the perception of her wealthier peers. Religion largely takes a back seat to the more human elements of the story, in what struck me as a female counterpoint to Richard Linklater’s films about male adolescence.
Judd Apatow spearheaded a comedic oeuvre that was once shocking and is now rather hackneyed. This is 40 finds freshness by accepting that the creators and audience alike have aged. When it focuses on the struggle to accept middle age and the strain it places on a marriage (together with the impact on children) there is something heartfelt to the comedy. When it reverts to ogling Megan Fox it becomes painful. Fortunately there is more of the former than the latter.