“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.
This is a mirthless “comedy” that marked the first serious misstep from Apatow Productions, which seemed to have perfected the recipe for modern raunchy comedies through likeable three-dimensional characters and a dash of sweetness whilst avoiding over-sentimentality. The core concept to Drillbit Taylor — bullied highschool kids hiring an ex-military bodyguard who infiltrates their school to protect them — is promising, and ripe for satire. Its chief problem is lazy writing that not only forgets to insert any humour but fails even as light drama due to its flimsy caricatures of nerds who are simultaneously too stupid and shallow for the audience to relate. Even the charismatic Owen Wilson seems present solely for the pay-cheque. The film’s saving graces are that Wade’s throwaway romantic subplot is cute to see unfold, and it is always fun to see bully’s receive their comeuppance, no matter how ill-earned.
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.