The minds and voices behind the stop-motion 3D zombie comedy “ParaNorman” took the stage at SDCC to talk about the August release.
Travis Knight, Producer and CEO of animation studio Laika was joined by Sam Fell and Chris Butler (also the film’s writer), directors of ParaNorman, along with actors Kodi Smit-McPhee (Norman), Anna Kendrick (Courtney), Christopher Mintz Plasse (Alvin) to talk about the movie.
Butler says that he’s been working on the script for the movie or developing it in some way or another over the last 16 years, with actual production starting three years ago. Inspired by Goonies, Ghostbusters, Butler says the central concept was “John Carpenter meets John Hughes” as a zombie movie for kids.
The story, told in stop-motion (my absolute favorite animation medium, by the way), the story follows Norman Babcock, a young outcast who can see and hear ghosts. When he learns that an evil witch is going to raise the dead in his small town, he’ll have to band together with his friend (singular) and enemies to save everyone.
Of course, it’s an outsider learning to be comfortable in his own skin story, and the making of video presented during the panel with the Oregon-based Laika animators and staff plays up how it’s a movie about outsiders made by outsiders, but like the movies Butler and Fell reference, it’s appealing because it looks darker than the typical kids’ stuff.
The first scene that we saw came from the second act and involved Norman attempting to read from a book that would prevent the rise of the dead. Interrupted by Alvin (who he bumped into earlier on his bike), Norman and his bully are stuck in the graveyard as the zombies start popping out the ground.
In terms of the look, it has he weight and feel of Monster House, a clean style with very fluid character motion (as opposed to say, The Fantastic Mr. Fox which had a deliberately stiff, almost Rankin-Bass style).
Knight says he was intrigued with Butler approached him with the idea during production of Coraline. He was moved by the story and excited about making something that could be seen as “Ray Harryhausen on bath salts.”
In another clip, we saw Norman, his sister, her boyfriend Mitch (Casey Affleck), and Alvin being menaced by a zombie on top of their van. A pursuing cop on a motorcycle is voiced by Cosby Show vet Tempest Bledsoe.
Fell says that he and Butler were inspired growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in England with American importants. Darkly humerous films like Joe Dante’s Gremlins made an impact on their work.
Moving to Smit-McPhee, the young actor joked that his voice started dropping during the production and that he’s no longer able to even duplicate that voice. Between that and also hiding his native Aussie accent, he has no proof that he was actually the voice actor in the film.
For Kendrick, voice acting was a first. She described the experience as very pure, being able to use her whole body to bring the best performance to the role without worrying about how her face looked.
Mintz-Plasse says that his bully character, Alvin looks like him, only, you know, bigger.
The actors talked about visiting the Laika studios and being impressed with the amount of detail that goes into the production as well as, to Mintz-Plasse in particular, the amount of patience by involved on the part of the animators. They said that at the conclusion of production, they got to stomp around the set like Godzilla.
Listening to their voices in the clips, Smit-McPhee is right: his voice is drastically different. Kendrick and Mintz-Plasse both also pitch their voices a bit higher for their roles.
As far as what’s next for Laika, Knight wouldn’t say what they have planned, but there might be some literary adaptations on the horizon and they’ll be making some announcements in the coming months.
ParaNorman will be in theaters on August 17th.