Fantasia Faceoff Finale: A Fantastic Fear of Everything vs. ParaNorman
And so we come to the end of Fantasia. It’s time to stand up, regain feeling in your bum (those seats are hard), and look to the future. And for many of the films that had their Canadian premieres here, this means hoping that the screening generated enough buzz to make the wider release of the film a success. Happily both A Fantastic Fear of Everything and ParaNorman sold out their screenings, but the question remains: did those packed houses get what they were expecting? And – more importantly – which of these sellout films would come out ahead in a thumb war, mud wrestle or chess match? That what I’m for, guys. That’s what I’m for.
A Fantastic Fear of Everything
Directed by Crispian Mills, Chris Hopewell
Written by Crispian Mills
Knee-deep in a movie script centered on Victorian serial killers, Jack (Simon Pegg) is starting to go a little crazy. What with constantly fearing for his life, he’s turned his apartment into a complete mess, and this is making his attempt to get dressed for an important meeting really, really difficult. What starts as a bid to get out the door looking presentable turns into an epic quest deep into Jack’s psyche, and along the way there are madcap antics, a wealth of sight gags, and even a stop-motion animated sequence featuring hedgehogs (!).
It’s all good fun, never terribly risky but thoroughly entertaining. Its first half is definitely stronger than the second – Jack’s neuroses and constant introspection start to wear thin after that – but the novelty of the film’s story combined with Simon Pegg’s charm as an actor will keep you interested nonetheless. What’s lacking here are a few more characters to act as Jack’s foils; however arresting a presence Simon Pegg is, he’s really at his best as part of an ensemble cast, and when he’s alone you find yourself waiting for another character to walk in and draw him out.
The aesthetic for the film, meanwhile, is delightfully surreal; eyeballs and laundry machines recur and merge as some psychedelic sequences sell the magnitude and unique character of Jack’s childhood trauma. There’s even a brief homage to Psycho that, far from coming across as fannish, deepens the self-aware and paranoid atmosphere that permeates the film.
All in all A Fantastic Fear of Everything‘s chief trouble is a lack of plot. Gallows humour can only carry a film so far, and when the plot finally does show up – using a coincidence or two as a foothold – it’s jarring. Still, this is an enjoyable and intelligent bit of silliness that’s definitely worth a watch.
There’s no word yet as to when – or if – A Fantastic Fear of Everything will play in North American theatres, but in any case it’s liable to do well on DVD on the strength of Pegg’s reputation alone. I mean, raise your hand if you didn’t like him in Shaun of the Dead. That’s what I thought.
Directed by Sam Fell, Chris Butler
Written by Chris Butler
Norman can talk to dead people, so it goes without saying that he’s not very popular in school. But when the vengeful dead start walking the streets, he may be his town’s last chance for redemption in face of a grisly past indeed.
The second stop motion feature film to come out of Laika Studios (the first was 2009′s Coraline), ParaNorman is an excellent showcase for what stop motion animation can be made to accomplish nowadays. The facial expressions are more fluid and believable than ever, while 3D effects add appreciable depth and interest without being distracting.
That said: this is not a particularly good-looking movie. The character designs lean far, far further into the realm of caricature than they need to, turning every personage into an unappealing mishmash of exaggerated traits, while the clothes and hair aren’t convincing in the slightest. The art direction as a whole leans heavily into German expressionism in all the wrong ways, making distracting and bewildering shapes out of elementary school lockers while having us believe that newspaper headlines are printed in the same font as the movie’s logo.
None of this would matter so much if the film had a strong plot and a compelling cast of characters, but I’m afraid it has neither. A story that wanders all over the place serves only to shove Norman and a couple of truly obnoxious people into the city hall archives and keep them there while slightly more interesting things happen outside. It all culminates in a sloppy moral about not being afraid of things, plus a couple of hasty nods at character development.
I wanted so badly to like this film. But it fell right into the same trap as so many animated movies, making the misguided assumption that kids want to be dazzled by garish colours, torn out of absorption in the story by means of vulgar one-liners, and lectured into acceptance of a simplistic moral. ParaNorman hits theatres on August 17th, and I’m afraid the only thing I can say to recommend it is that very young children might enjoy it if the zombies don’t scare the crap out of them first. You’ll have to feel it out.
As you have probably already guessed, A Fantastic Fear of Everything gets this one. I had high hopes for ParaNorman and all things considered I was pretty disappointed – and so, while it’s by no means a perfect film, A Fantastic Fear of Everything gets kudos for its kooky art direction, its novel story, and for Simon Pegg. Because seriously: Simon Pegg.