In anticipation of the new zombie comedy ParaNorman, we sat down with director Sam Fell and writer/director Chris Butler. Check out what they had to say about bullying, morals, and being the smartest, weirdest kid in town.
Mindhut: ParaNorman is Laika's second feature after Coraline. Are you guys trying to corner the market on macabre children's films?
Sam Fell: I don’t think we should make any assumptions about Laika being only creepy movies for kids. Admittedly, we’ve had two creepy ones in a row, but I think that our M.O. is "let’s tell stories no one else is telling." That’s not necessarily going to just be horror movies for kids. Travis Knight—he’s the CEO [of Laika] and the lead animator on ParaNorman—his point of view is really exciting. That this medium—and it’s not a genre, it’s a medium—should be used to tell any kind of story. That’s what we’re going to try and do. We don’t want to imitate Pixar and Dreamworks. What’s the point? They do it really well. What we’ll see is a lot more brave and varied storytelling.
Mindhut: There are some great messages in the film. Is there one in particular you want your audience to walk away with?
SF: The simple idea that what makes [these characters] weird also makes them wonderful. That nicely sums it up. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Chris Butler: That’s the big one for me: the intolerance theme. It’s not as clear as just saying bullying is being beaten up or having your head flushed in the toilet every day of your life. It’s not. Essentially, if anyone looks at you different or points their finger at you because of the way you speak or the way you dress—that is still bullying. That’s a big part of the story.
Hopefully, a kid will have a great time watching this movie. They’ll sit there and be part of this roller coaster ride. They’ll find it funny and scary at all the right parts. But when it’s done, maybe they’ll look at the person sitting next to them a little bit differently.
Mindhut: Should every story have a moral?
SF: It’s nice if you can, isn’t it? It’s a great thing to do with animation in an entertaining way. Kids are very smart and they don’t like to be preached to. So if you want to talk to them about something difficult it’s much better to sort of come at it sideways.
CB: Certainly the stories I remember most from my childhood are the ones that had something to say. They’re not mutually exclusive. We can have a fun time and say something at the same time. When I set out writing this, I didn’t intend to sit down and write a story of fitting in and forming an identity. I just wanted to write a fun, zombie movie. It just so happens that it’s got something to say about bullying.
Mindhut: The movie also portrays adults as bullies, which should be particularly fun for kids. Was that intentional?
CB: Adults are always telling kids how to do things, and how things should be done right. But when you’re a kid you often look at adults and think, "you guys aren’t really following your own rules, are you? " So none of the adults are particularly smart [in ParaNorman].
SF: There’s only one smart character in the whole movie and that’s Norman.
Mindhut: Stop-motion is regarded as an antiquated film-making technique, but Laika has brought it into the 21st Century. What will the next step be for the studio?
SF: The approach we took on this was, "yes, we raised the bar with Coraline but let’s go further." If you look at the innovations just in three years—like in Coraline the faces had to be hand-painted. Now they’re color-printed faces. We can’t really foresee what the technical innovations are but I think our approach was correct. You go for it. Even though [stop-motion] is this age-old magic, and that is something to be treasured, we don’t ever think of it as some kind of historical novelty. It’s not. It’s a vibrant, vital art form. You can still maintain everything that’s special about it and continue to take it into a new century.
Are you psyched to see ParaNorman?