BH Interview: 'ParaNorman' Directors Scare Up Stop-Motion Thriller

BH Interview: 'ParaNorman' Directors Scare Up Stop-Motion Thriller

Christopher Mintz-Plasse shot to fame playing McLovin, the uber-nerd in the rude comedy “Superbad.” And he looked the part, with a gangly frame and expressions that captured a young man on the outskirts of the cool cliques.

So naturally directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler wanted him to voice the bully character in their stop-motion feature “ParaNorman,” opening tomorrow in theaters nationwide.

“That was our approach, to do the unexpected, not to judge a book by its cover,” Butler tells Big Hollywood. “That filtered down into our process. We tried to think of things a little differently.”

Like making an animated horror comedy paying homage to the genre classics of the ’80s, perhaps?

“ParaNorman” follows a complicated lad (Kodi Smit-McPhee) with the power to speak to the dead. He’s an outcast but hardly a shrinking violet, so when his recently deceased uncle (voiced by John Goodman) tells Norman he must save the town from a witch’s curse he embraces his destiny.

The film features wonderful character design, sly humor and some recognizable voices (including Jeff Garlin, Anna Kendrick and Casey Affleck). It’s also rather terrifying at times, particularly for the younger set.

“Scares,” insists Butler, “are good.” He cites the timeless Maurice Sendak story “Where the Wild Things Are” as one example where children are exposed to things that go bump in the night.

The “ParaNorman” story itself sprang not from literature but from Butler’s own childhood.

“In order to carry the movie, Norman has to be a real kid,” he says, and he drew upon actual experiences he had as a boy. “I didn’t fit in at all … that feeling of isolation is a big deal when you’re 11. My parents were supportive of my weirdness.”

“ParaNorman” employs stop-motion techniques in which small models are moved a fraction of an inch at a time in order to approximate real movement. Think the California Raisins and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” as two classic examples of the painstaking craft.

Neither Butler nor Fell let the process limit their ambitions.

“It’s a very big-scale movie for this medium,” Fell says, pointing to a scene later in the film involving what he called a “big, angry, silly mob.”

“We wanted to approach it as no one had approached stop motion before,” adds Butler. “We didn’t change anything, never rewrote anything to make it more stop-motion friendly.”

Horror movie buffs will appreciate some of the sonic flourishes in “ParaNorman.” When the zombies lumber onto the screen they’re accompanied by a retro beat courtesy of Jon Brion’s original score.

“We wanted to get that John Carpenter flavor, that synth sound, to make our film identifiable,” Fell says of the horror auteur behind “Halloween” and “The Thing.”

“Like everything else, we didn’t want it to be a pastiche or parody. We wanted to reference it, but do something contemporary,” Butler adds. The filmmakers even used the score from the indie charmer “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” for inspiration.

“It fit so perfectly,” Butler says. 

Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies