DirectorSam Fell, Chris Butler
Release Date(s)2012 (December 13, 2022)
Studio(s)LAIKA/Focus Features (Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
After the success of Coraline, it was only natural that LAIKA would continue to make more films, and they followed the Neil Gaiman-penned Coraline with the horror homage ParaNorman, which the creators often described as a “John Hughes” type of story, but with zombies and ghosts. One of the most popular films in the LAIKA cannon, it’s also one of the more accessible entries. Unfortunately, it lacks the originality and creativity of the other films. It’s more or less a cliché now for horror films to honor and reference those of the past. In that way, ParaNorman is a more pedestrian affair. However, it’s not a poor effort at all, just more perfunctory. In terms of its technical wizardry, it’s one of the most complex and impressive of all the films. Yet despite being less interesting on a story level, ParaNorman is still a fun and inventive crowd-pleaser.
11-year-old horror-obsessed Norman is a loner with no friends. His proclamations of being able to see and speak to ghosts have labeled him a weirdo and a freak, constantly made fun of and bullied at school. His dead grandmother encourages him, but he seems unable to make friends. Meanwhile, his estranged great-uncle dies of a heart attack, and his spirit goes to Norman and demands that he take a secret book in order to perform a ritual in a graveyard before sundown or an evil witch will unleash upon the town. Norman does so, but accidentally raises the dead, not knowing that the witch wasn’t buried in the graveyard after all. As the witch and the zombies descend upon the town, it’s up to Norman to try and set things right.
ParaNorman was captured digitally by director of photography Tristan Oliver (along with the animators) with Canon EOS-5D Mark II cameras with Canon Tilt-Shift and Cooke Varotal lenses at 5K quality (computer-generated visual effects were likely rendered at 2K quality). Everything was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Shout! Factory’s Ultra HD debut of the film comes sourced from a “new 4K restoration,” graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available) with the supervision of LAIKA. Like Coraline, this is likely a 2K upscale, but it’s also excellent. The additional depth enhances the most intricate of details in the animation and environments that it takes place in. Contrast is also improved, appearing less cloudy than previous presentations. The HDR options, especially the Dolby Vision pass, widen the gamut considerably, allowing for the colorful environments of the film to leap off the screen. The various hues and textures, most of which lean toward green and orange (with effective uses of red and purple), are lush. Blacks are inky deep and there are no digital artifacts to be found.
Audio is included in a new English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible) track. It’s a powerful track that adds additional space to an already solid sound mix, opening up opportunities in the overhead speakers while immersing listeners with crisp sound effects and a gorgeous score. Dialogue exchanges are always discernible, and the overall track packs a punch with thumping low end activity. Additionally, there are also a pair of 5.1 DTS tracks in Spanish and French, as well as an English Descriptive Video Service track. Subtitle options include English SDH, Spanish, and French.
ParaNorman on 4K Ultra HD sits in Steelbook packaging with new artwork by Cesar Moreno, alongside a 1080p Blu-ray of the film and a 12-page insert booklet featuring behind-the-scenes stills, concept art, and an essay by Bill Desowitz. It’s also available in standard packaging. The following extras are included on each disc, all in HD:
DISC ONE (UHD):
- Audio Commentary with Sam Fell and Chris Butler
DISC TWO (BD):
- Audio Commentary with Sam Fell and Chris Butler
- Inside LAIKA: Discovering the Characters and Effects of ParaNorman (12:51)
- Inside LAIKA: Character Animation:
- Courtney Babcock (1:25)
- Mitch (1:35)
- Norman Babcock (1:59)
- Neil (1:22)
- Mr. Prenderghast (1:43)
- Zombie Judge (2:09)
- Feature-Length Storyboards (92:03)
- Peering Through the Veil: Behind the Scenes of ParaNorman:
- That’s ParaNorman (1:01)
- Creating a World (4:17)
- Voicing ParaNorman (6:22)
- Building Characters (5:38)
- Making Faces (6:58)
- Rigging the Game (4:01)
- Bringing the Undead to Life (4:27)
- Angry Aggie (5:18)
- Weird and Wonderful (2:35)
- You Don’t Become a Hero by Being Normal (2:43)
- A Normal Childhood (2:03)
- Playing as a Profession (2:18)
- Making Norman (1:34)
- This Little Light (1:15)
- Have You Ever Seen a Ghost? (2:11)
- The Zombies of ParaNorman (2:14)
- Character Art Still Gallery (24 in all – 2:05)
- Concept Art Still Gallery (24 in all – 2:06)
- Behind the Scenes Still Gallery (24 in all – 2:06)
- Teaser Trailer (1:33)
The extras begin with the original 2012 audio commentary featuring writer and co-director Chris Butler and co-director Sam Fell. It’s an upbeat and informative chat between the two as they watch the film together, offering plenty of information about it, including its influences, its production, and initial ideas versus the final product. The newest additions are the Inside LAIKA featurettes. The first, Discovering the Characters of ParaNorman, features footage from the recording sessions, behind-the-scenes footage, and rare test footage. The second, Character Animation, offers seven separate featurettes on some of the characters. Peering Through the Veil is broken up into nine chapters, which can optionally be played all at once. It covers much of the same ground, even repeating some of the same interview snippets. The rest of the extras consist of promotional material. Interview participants throughout include Chris Butler, Sam Fell, producer Arianne Sutner, animator and producer Travis Knight, production designer Nelson Lowry, director of photography Tristan Oliver, visual effects supervisor Brian Van’t Hul, animation supervisor Brad Schiff, animators Jason Stalman, Dan Alderson, Justin Rasch, actors Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Tucker Albrizzi, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Tempestt Bledsoe, Jeff Garlin, Alex Borstein, assistant art director and head of set dressing Robert DeSue, character fabrication supervisor Georgina Hayns, armature designer Jeremy Spake, head of armature Jeanne R. McIvor, lead hair and fabricator Jill Penney, head of hair and fur fabricator Jessica Lynn, costume design supervisor Debroah Cook, fabrication design lead Kingman Gallagher, fabrication performance lead Morgan Hay, replacement animator and engineer Brian McLean, animation rigging supervisor Oliver Jones, lead animation rigger Brian Addison Elliot, 2D effects animator Susanna Luck, production illustrator Ean McNamara, 2D facial animator David Vandervoort, assistant to the producer Laura Merton, puppet wrangler Alicia Cortes, and mold maker Mattzilla Duron. There are also three still galleries containing a total of 72 images of character art, concept art, and behind-the-scenes photos, as well as the film’s teaser trailer.
The biggest omission from this release is the 3D version of the film, in both its anaglyphic and polarized forms. Also not included from Universal’s Blu-ray release is a set of three Preliminary Animatic Sequences with optional audio commentary by Chris Butler and Sam Fell, as well as the U-Control interactive features. Aside from those missing pieces, ParaNorman soars in 4K.
- Tim Salmons