I saw ParaNorman this weekend. The film wasn’t on my radar, but I couldn’t overlook its positive reception amongst critics I read and respect. And it’s a well-deserved reception — the movie is smart and funny, and I imagine even more fun for horror genre fans.
After I left the theater, I was thinking about how much I like stop-motion films. I can’t even recall one I dislike. Granted, there’s a pretty small sample size, but I think I’ve seen enough that I can dry to draw some conclusions about why I like the form.
I settled on the economy of the form. For obvious reasons, stop-motion films are usually 75-90 minutes. And because the amount of work needed for every frame, I imagine there’s a lot demanded of the script before filming even begins.
Like its predecessors, ParaNorman feels tight. There is no dawdling, no unnecessary story threads, no time-wasting. Before the title card even appears, we’re given the basics of the story, from Norman’s background to the man who will set Norman on his journey.
The approach reminded me of something I harp on when teaching my writing classes: mystery is overrated. I found that many of my students wanted to hide their points until the end, assuming that it would pack a better punch given the timing and element of surprise. But I always told them to lay their cards on the table upfront: it’s better to make an argument or tell a story by being forthcoming. When we withhold as writers, we limit ourselves to cheap and often thin thrills — at best. (Now that I think about it, this is all related to my previous post on how time-shifting affects the way we watch television shows.)
In fact, ParaNorman’s structure would be a good example for those students. It isn’t revolutionary. During the third act, I was writing out much of the movement in my own mind. But the story was whole, and didn’t overstay its welcome. It’s not an exceptional stop-motion film, but evidence of why the form is so strong. I won’t let such films fall off of my radar in the future.