You really do have an incredible cast here. In writing the project, did you have certain voices in mind?
CB: “I did. And actually I think we were really lucky because we got pretty close to getting everyone we wanted on our first list. We wanted the main voice cast of the kids to harmonize so we would listen to their auditions mixed together with images of the characters. Some of the characters changed from where I started when I wrote them initially. Mr. Prenderghast was a frail, dapper creature and it was the character designer, Heidi, who drew him and he became this huge, awful, stinking-looking creature, and in rewrites it took on a different direction and we got John Goodman to voice it and it was perfect.”
Is it a delicate balance between the humor and the horror?
SF: “Yes. This film works for a strong-willed five-year-old and certainly eight and up. And if we have a scary moment we’ll often move quickly into a funny one.”
CB: “The intention narratively is to turn things on their head, so even though it has zombies in it there are a few surprises along the way. It’s not always the thing that you think would be scary that is the scariest. We have a movie within the movie where we set up the stereotype of the zombie movie in the beginning – it’s got bad lighting and cutting, the whole bit – and we set up that premise that zombies are evil and going to kill you so that we can have fun with it and play with it. And we always bring it back to a laugh.”
The look of the sets and the costumes and the character design is so gorgeous and so unusual, what were you referencing or looking to accomplish in terms of the aesthetic of the film?
CB: “When people read the script they often felt that it was live-action, and although I always wanted to do this stop-motion because that feels perfect for a zombie movie, I always thought that was a compliment. Because it aspires to be something more than something small-scale or theatrical. I wanted it to feel like real characters. We aimed for that in the look of it as well. We wanted to increase its scope because stop-motion can often feel very contained and small by its nature. You’re physically limited by your sets and puppets but we really wanted to push those boundaries.”
SF: “That was the key to finding its own style for the film to be unique. To get away from the theatrical on one end, and the cartoony on the other, and go out and bring the real world into it.”
CB: “And stylize it and have fun with that. But definitely it’s not some whimsical, perfect, animated place. Part of the story is about a town that’s kind of rotting around the edges and we looked at a lot of photographers like William Egglestonand and focused on finding beauty in trash.”
It’s serendipitous that we’re in the midst of a zombie boom.
SF: “I remember thinking about 12 years ago that somebody has got to make a zombie movie for kids, and luckily that hasn’t happened yet. But it’s actually become something more than a zombie movie.”
CB: “This is influenced by all the movies and TV shows that I loved growing up and there’s absolutely a zeitgeist of the same mentality that grew up watching ‘Scooby-Doo’ and ‘The Goonies’ and ‘E.T.’ I’m just pleased that no one did it first. I used to watch ‘Scooby-Doo’ and would, even as a kid, think ‘why are they friends with each other?’ It doesn’t make any sense. Shaggy and Velma would never be friends. And Fred, the kind of guy who wears white cashmere and little neckerchief is probably not as interested in Daphne as she thinks he is.
And so I thought if you take that to its logical conclusion then what if those characters were in a contemporary story – what would happen? And what would happen is that they would want to kill one another. And so this is a contemporary story of a group of kids who shouldn’t get on and don’t want to get on, but they are kind of forced together and that’s part of the comedy of it. And it seems entirely appropriate to do a monster movie as stop-motion.”
Sam Fell and Chris Butler direct a voice cast that includes Casey Affleck, Tempestt Bledsoe, Alex Borstein, Jodelle Ferland, John Goodman, Bernard Hill, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Elaine Stritch, from a script by Chris Butler.
ParaNorman opens in 2D and 3D theaters on August 17th, 2012.
You can visit the official ParaNorman website to learn more at www.Paranorman.com.
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