With Laika Studios releasing ParaNorman on 3D Blu-ray combo pack, Blu-ray combo pack, DVD, On Demand and digital download on Nov. 27, I decided to catch up with my old friend (and ParaNorman creator/director) Chris Butler. We chatted about his dream project coming to life, how this movie of his is changing the world, and why everyone needs to watch it at least twice.
Logan: Hey, Chris. Thanks so much for chatting with me today. For you, what is ParaNorman about?
Chris: I think mainly it's about tolerance. It's about how judging people is often misjudging people. The original seed of the idea was something as simple as "how cool would it be to make a stop-mo-animated zombie movie for kids?" and I think that had more to do with growing up on a gleeful diet of Ray Harryhausen creature features and cheesy horror movies. But then beyond that I started thinking that all the best zombie movies are really social commentary -- zombies as metaphors. I had the lofty ambition of trying to do that on my movie, only making it a social commentary for kids. I think by far the hardest issue I faced as a child was "fitting in." I was different, and when you're a kid, "different" is considered "bad." The world isn't a tolerant place for people who don't conform to the accepted norm. When I embraced that as the heart of the movie, the story really clicked. I wanted to juxtapose the fictional horror of the walking dead with the very real horror of what it is to be 11 years old and different.
Logan: Oh, God. Seriously. How long had this project been in the works?
Chris: I started writing it about 15 or 16 years ago. I kept returning to it over the years. There was something about it that just wouldn't die, which I guess for a zombie movie is pretty appropriate.
Logan: Aww, it's your baby!
Chris: This truly is my baby, from initial idea through first draft of the script to the finished movie. It's a very personal project to me.
Logan: Clearly. I was also struck by the craft of it all. In a world of mass production and CGI, to see something so labor-intensive come to life is a real treat. Was it hard to convince people to come on board with your way of doing things instead of taking an easier animation route?
Chris: We're an odd bunch in the stop-motion world. We live, breathe and fight for our medium. We love what we do, and for that reason this type of animation will always be around and will always attract amazingly talented people. I think there was a degree of passion among the crew for this project in particular that I don't think I've seen before. Obviously, I'm biased, but I genuinely think people wanted to give this their all.
It was always conceived as stop-motion, right from day one. As soon as I saw the skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts as a kid, I knew that stop-motion was the best way to bring the dead back to life!
Logan: It's really special, Chris. And clearly, Casey Affleck's ginger character is based on me. If one of the characters in the film were based on you and your experience in the world, who would it be?
Chris: Norman, of course.
Logan: What about Norman is you?
Chris: Pretty much everything. In order to try and make this story feel true and real, I had to go right back to those dim and distant days of my childhood. There's a lot of me in Norman, except I didn't speak to dead people (most of the time), and my parents weren't awful like Perry and Sandra, and my brother wasn't a cheerleader.
Logan: Well, every memoir has a few historic revisions, I'm sure. Aside from continued commercial and critical success, what are your big dreams for the film? Like, in a perfect world, what would its creation have accomplished?
Chris: I really wanted this movie to say something honest and brave. I didn't want it to be colorful babysitting seat filler, which I think is the expectation for a lot of modern animated features. I wanted this movie to make kids think, and hopefully their parents, too. I wanted to take the audience on a funny, action-packed rollercoaster ride, but at the end of it, I wanted the kids in the theater to maybe look at the people around them just a little bit differently.
Logan: Speaking of the end of it, I don't want to spoil any surprises for people who may not have seen the film yet, but there is a plot twist (involving my ginger character) that felt very radical to me for the genre. Was this something you had to fight for? Is this your brand of activism?
Chris: Yes, it was hugely radical for a mainstream family feature, and we absolutely wanted to do it. I felt that in trying to make a point about tolerance, it was important to have the strength of our convictions. We did not want to say, "Tolerance is good, but only when applied to people we deem acceptable." This movie is about not judging a book by its cover. Every character in the movie, good and bad, judges someone else based on what they see or what they think they know. And almost all of them are wrong. I wanted to make the audience complicit in this: We think we know what zombies are. Actually, we're wrong. We think we know what a witch is. Wrong again. We think Mitch is a token leading man who's going to get the girl. Nope! Not even close! The key thing here is that throughout the movie he's just a "normal" guy, and that's the point! Plus, we thought it was a neat gag to end on.
Logan: Yeah, it was great. So touching, man. How was the experience of co-directing? The end result seems like maybe you two were perfectly matched.
Chris: It was actually very functional. We worked together very well. Going into it, you never know, and I guess I was nervous, as this had been my baby for so long, but Sam just got it. We were both trying to make the same movie from the start, and that made it a very easy experience.
Logan: I love it when things work out. What's next for you, sir? Anything exciting coming up that you are able to share with us?
Chris: I'm writing at the moment. I'm staying at Laika, and I have a bunch of ideas I'd like to pursue. Watch this space.
Logan: Thanks again for taking some time out of your busy schedule to talk with me, Chris. If there were just one thing you'd want everyone in the world to know about this movie, what would it be?
Chris: More than 330 people worked their asses off for over three years to make this thing, and it shows. It's a work of art, I think, and you really should see it. Twice, at least.
Watch the ParaNorman trailer:
For more on ParaNorman, visit ParaNorman.com.
For more on Laika studios, visit Laika.com.
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