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COMIC-CON | The “ParaNorman” Directors Talk About Their Stop-Motion Zombie Comedy

COMIC-CON | The "ParaNorman" Directors Talk About Their Stop-Motion Zombie Comedy

Last month, we spotlighted the stop-motion zombie comedy “ParaNorman,” from the folks behind “Coraline,” for our ‘Bigger Project of the Day’ Friday column. The film’s creative team is in San Diego this weekend hyping up the flick at Comic-Con.

Directors: Sam Fell (“The Tale of Despereaux,” “Flushed Away”) and Chris Butler (“Coraline”)
Screenwriter: Chris Butler
Voices: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Casey Affleck, Tempestt Bledsoe, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, Bernard Hill, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Elaine Stritch, Tucker Albrizzi, Alex Borstein and Jodelle Ferland
Studio: Focus Features
U.S. Release Date: August 17, 2012

Following the commercial and critical success of Henry Selick’s stop-motion animated dark wonder, “Coraline,” the film’s distributor Focus Features was quick to re-team with the group behind the hit 3D film, Portland-based animation studio LAIKA. Their latest collaboration, “ParaNorman,” opens wide next summer.

Boasting a script by Chris Butler, the storyboard supervisor on “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” tackles similar dark material for a family film. The comedy thriller concerns a misunderstood local boy, Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who can talk to dead people. His talent comes in handy when a pack of zombies attack his small town, forcing him into hero mode.

“It’s not darker that ‘Coraline,'” Butler said over the phone from the LAIKA studios. “I would say ‘Coraline’ is dark on a primary level because it’s about having your parents replaced. ‘ParaNorman’ has its darkness to it. But it’s absolutely a comedy, whereas ‘Coraline’ wasn’t.”

The initial inspiration for “ParaNorman,” Butler said, dates back to about ten years ago.

“The essential story came from a ‘what if’ idea in my family that had to do with my relationship with my Grandma,” he said. “It was that, combined with the fact I wanted to do a zombie movie for kids.”

In other words, don’t expect “ParaNorman” to be next year’s stop-motion answer to “Finding Nemo.” Both Butler and co-director Sam Fell expressed that this film is a family one in the vein of the stuff they grew up watching: “The Goonies,” “Poltergeist,” “Ghostbusters,” etc. In other words – darker and edgier fare than families are accustomed to seeing these days.

“Part of my reason for wanting to do this, is the original idea was John Carpenter meets John Hughes,” said Fell on why agreed to hop on board. “That was the driving force right from the start. I think we’ve managed to capture that.”

To do so, Fell and Butler have deviated away from the theatrical and Gothic look associated with many stop-motion films (“Corpse Bride,” “James and the Giant Peach”), and embraced a more contemporary vibe.

“Because we were referencing a more 80s vibe we wanted to take it visually that way as well,” Fell said. “We’re setting it in a more run down small American town. Rather that building beautiful Gothic chairs, we’re actually building some really humble objects, like IKEA furniture on the street corner. It’s great fun to take the real world and rebuild it in miniature.”

“We were looking at a lot of contemporary photographers who really find the beauty in the mundane,” added Butler. “We’re enjoying finding the beauty in our ordinary world… a chain linked fence or an old can in a gutter.”

Voice work has wrapped on the production. Butler and Fell are racing to complete “ParaNorman” in time for its August, 2012 release date.

“We’re right in the thick of it,” Fell said. “Animation is always tricky. It’s a long process. But none of us would be doing this if we weren’t absolutely in love with it. You have to love it to want to do it for years on end.”

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