If we were allowed to talk about these things (which, of course, we’re not), we would say that “ParaNorman,” the new stop-motion animated film from Laika opening August 17th in 3D and regular cinemas, isn’t just the best animated movie released so far this year (not to mention one of the biggest surprises this summer’s dreary movie landscape has to offer) – but that it’s one of the best movies of the year, period. And a big part of “ParaNorman” casting its ghoulish spell on you is the perfectly calibrated score by Jon Brion, a witches brew that is equal parts orchestral bombast and ’80s slasher movie cheese. Thankfully, we won’t have long to wait for the album, as Pitchfork reports that it will be released (via Relativity Music Group) on August 14th, just a few days before the movie comes out.
“ParaNorman” (co-directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler) tells the story of young Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee from “The Road” and “Let Me In“), a kid in a small Massachusetts town who is constantly picked on, mostly because he claims to have the ability to see ghosts. (He really does!) Things get considerably weirder as Norman starts seeing omens connected with an ancient witch trial and a blood curse placed upon the citizens of his town. There are zombies and witches and… We’ve said too much. But Brion’s score, both twinkly and menacing, is the perfect accompaniment to the movie’s gorgeous stop-motion-animated visuals that are sometimes profoundly creepy (especially for a kids’ movie). Strikingly, Brion uses some Goblin-esque synths alongside his orchestral compositions to really great effect.
Brion, of course, is the super-genius producer/songwriter/composer who has created the scores to movies ranging from Michel Gondry‘s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” to Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “Magnolia” to Adam McKay‘s “Step Brothers.” “ParaNorman” is his first animated feature, although he did score a computer-animated Walt Disney short film called “Glago’s Guest” back in 2008. That short, about a Russian soldier dealing with an alien encounter, was supposed to be brilliant (it was good enough to get its director, Chris Williams, the job of overhauling Chris Sanders‘ idiosyncratic feature “American Dog” into the much more digestible “Bolt“) but has yet to have any kind of commercial release. It was said, too, at some point after the release of “Magnolia,” that Paul Thomas Anderson and his then-girlfriend Fiona Apple approached Pixar about doing a musical, with Brion (who produced several of Apple’s albums, including the first version of her troubled, ultimately compromised Extraordinary Machine) presumably supplying the music. (Brion will be providing the score to the still-untitled Pixar “umbrella short,” which will be attached to unnecessary prequel “Monsters University” next summer.)
As a producer, Brion has worked with Aimee Mann, Rufus Wainwright, Kanye West, Of Montreal and Keane (among many, many others). Most recently he produced Best Coast‘s summery album The Best Place. He also has a single, amazing solo album called Meaningless (anyone who loved his original songs for things like “I Heart Huckabees” and “Punch-Drunk Love” is encouraged to check it out). He’s less a musician than a force of nature.
And everyone can hear his outstanding work on “ParaNorman” either when the soundtrack comes out on August 14th or when the movie opens on August 17th. It’s scary good.
“ParaNorman” Soundtrack Tracklisting
01 Zombie Attack in the Eighties
02 Norman at the Piano/Main Title
03 Norman’s Walk
04 Alvin Attacks
05 Enter Neil/Mr P/Ghost Walk/Ghost Dog
06 Goodbye Mr P/Historic Drama/Grounded/Heavy Visitation
07 Alvin Again/Scary Bedroom
08 Norman Tries to Keep It Cool/ Grandma’s Got Your Back
09 Moth Rock
10 The Dead Shall Be Raised
11 Zombies Attack
12 People Attack
13 Are We There Yet?
14 Aggie Fights
16 Oh, and One More Thing