Top 5 Takeaways from the conversation at
Laika’s ParaNorman 10-Year Anniversary Panel at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
In the age of terrific offerings from animated juggernauts like Disney and Pixar, it’s very easy to overlook the small, independent Oregon-based animation studio, Laika. But for your money, the studio remains one of the finest names in storytelling in the business! Even amidst big budget offerings like Pixar’s Lightyear, or Minions: The Rise of Gru, Laika has managed to hold its own thanks to consistently excellent storytelling and mature, yet family-friendly, subject matter; coupled with incredible charm and gorgeous aesthetics thanks to their unique commitment to the stop-motion animation art form.
Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell, ParaNorman tells the story of a bullied tween, named Norman, who has the unique ability to see and speak to the dead. When his town is threatened by the curse of a vengeful witch’s ghost, it’s up to Norman to figure out a way to correct the mistakes of the past and save everyone in Blythe Hollow. Filled with poignant messages and soulful characters, ParaNorman, which in its initial theatrical run performed less successfully than its predecessor Coraline, eventually made its way to becoming a true cult classic and is considered to be one of the finest animated films of the past decade. The terrific script and beautiful animation garnered the film an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 2013 Oscars.
This weekend the studio celebrated the 10-Year anniversary of the film, with a special screening and Q&A of the film at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures On hand to discuss the impact the film has had 10 years later were producer and Laika President of Production Arianne Sutner, director Chris Butler, and costume designer Deborah Cook. Here are the top 5 things we learned from the panel:
5) THE CHARACTER OF NORMAN WAS BASED ON CHRIS BUTLER
Though ParaNorman was released 10 years ago, the production began 4 years prior, and co-director and screenwriter Chris Butler was working on the idea 10 years before that. The film had been with him for 25 years. The character of Norman and his experiences in the film were based on Butler himself, and his own experiences growing up. The design of the character was based on a photograph of himself when he was 10 years old – but if he saw a ghost and his head stood straight up! Butler also noted being an outsider as a kid, like Norman. And Norman’s signature ears are based on Butler’s as well.
As a child Butler loved horror movies like Night of the Living Dead, and wanted to do a zombie movie. And while he loved shows like Scooby Doo, he questioned character dynamics like why the gang would bring Velma along, or why Fred wasn’t as interested in Daphne.
4) THE FILM FEATURES THE FIRST OPENLY-GAY CHARACTER IN ANIMATION
It meant everything for the filmmakers to include Mitch as an openly-gay character in the film. The character’s sexual orientation isn’t revealed until the end of the film, and that was the point. The film is about judgement and how individuals judge one another. So Butler and team wanted to make the audience complicit in that, by having them view the movie, and make judgements on the characters based on their experiences with them. Then flip that on its head. The goal of Mitch’s character was to ensure his presence in the film wasn’t defined by him being gay. He just happens to be gay, and is very happy about that. They wanted this to reflect on the character’s impact on his younger brother, Neil, ensuring that Neil would be a positive and optimistic, incredibly accepting character because of Mitch’s example. The film became the first time GLAAD had ever nominated an animated movie in the Outstanding Film category at the GLAAD Media Awards.
3) CREATING COSTUMES FOR THE CHARACTERS WAS DIFFICULT DUE TO THE VARYING FIGURES OF EACH CHARACTER
Costume designer, Cook, was able to work on the full film from the early stages to completion. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t encounter challenges. One of the biggest ones was trying to create a jacket for Norman’s friend Neil. The puppet was made out of foam latex, and the material kept shrinking. So it was difficult to keep the clothing consistent from scene to scene. The adjustments Cook had to make to achieve duplication from scene to scene required her having to pin things before, after, and the middle of each shot. Therefore they weren’t able to do as many costume changes for each character, but it still retained an iconic look for every character.
2) THE HARDEST SCENES TO FILM WERE THE ONES THAT LOOKED THE MOST SIMPLE ON-SCREEN
According to Sutner, the hardest things to deal with in ParaNorman were scenes like Norman hopping from log to log in a flashback sequence, as well as nailing the asymmetrical eyeball looks for the characters with second sight. Even the idea of making characters with different anatomies, like different sized legs or necks. The team worked hard to make sure the film didn’t feel like other animated films, which provided difficulties. Even a scene as simple as seeing one of the film’s bullies, Alvin, breakdancing was incredibly difficult given the anatomical proportions of the character.
1) ANIMATION IS NOT JUST FOR KIDS
In response to the controversial statement Disney CEO, Bob Chapek, made regarding animation being for kids, Laika affirmed their commitment that they treat animated films as universal films. They approach projects like ParaNorman in the same way Spielberg or John Hughes would approach films like E.T. or The Breakfast Club. For them it is simply about telling human stories and achieving a universality to the characters and themes. Laika is trying to help breakdown the notion that animation is a separate medium to any other films and approach their projects in that manner. They consider what they personally loved seeing in cinema and apply it to the films they make. Their stance is that their films are for everybody. They don’t look at it in the same way as folks like Chapek. Laika films are for everyone and provide a safe space for audiences. Any story for any audience can be told in the medium of animation. And that ultimately, represents the greater point of filmmaking.
About the author
Mike Manalo: When not saving the world from apocalyptic circumstances, Mike Manalo is a mild mannered freelance reporter passionate about attending comic cons, premieres, and screenings. Hobbies include being obsessed with comics, movies, and all things nerdy!