By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Stop-motion films have been breathing life into inanimate objects for over a century, but "ParaNorman" takes on the undead, bringing zombies, ghosts and ghouls to a quirky family comedy.
"ParaNorman" - in U.S. movie theaters on Friday - follows the journey of a young misfit with the ability to speak to the dead.
Norman must save his unsuspecting town from an impending zombie apocalypse, aided by his friends, family and even the school bully on an adventure that has car chases, angry mobs and a surprising twist.
The team at the Laika studio, which was behind the critically acclaimed 2009 fantasy animation film "Coraline," were not only eager to add horror to the stop-motion genre - they also wanted to make the "most ambitious stop-frame movie ever."
"It's very influenced by the movies I grew up watching, which I think then therefore taps into the adult stuff with the John Carpenter and John Hughes element to it," director Christopher Butler told Reuters. He added that the makers had referenced 1980s horror classics such as "Halloween."
"We always thought of what would happen if the kids from 'The Breakfast Club' ended up in 'The Fog'," he said.
"We pushed boundaries with 'Coraline' and did everything you're not supposed to do in stop-motion on this."
A team of 60 artists crafted 178 puppets of the 61 characters in "ParaNorman," with 28 puppets alone for Norman, each incorporating 275 strands of goat hair, thread and wire to create the hero's signature spiky hair style.
The film utilized new technology along with the laborious stop-motion technique, using 3D elements that could generate up to 1.5 million facial expressions for misfit hero Norman, voiced by Australian newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee.
"I just love his character so much. There's just so much going on inside of him and I liked the challenge of trying to get that through in the voice and emotions," the actor told Reuters.
Smit-McPhee, now 16, worked on the film in 2010 while his voice was breaking and becoming "really cracky and weird." He said he'll never be able to do Norman's voice again.
"ParaNorman" is the first animated film for Anna Kendrick, who rose to fame in "The Twilight Saga" franchise and scored an Oscar nomination for her role opposite George Clooney in "Up In The Air." Kendrick lent her voice to the character of Courtney, Norman's sassy older sister.
"I found it extremely freeing to not have to worry about how my face and body looks; to just be using that to my advantage and not having to worry about the camera angle," she said.
Christopher Mintz-Plasse, best known for playing the underdog himself in films such as "Superbad," was recruited to voice the nasty school bully, Alvin.
"It's special to be part of a stop-motion movie for me because there's so few of them and I love every single one that's released ... They just always look so beautiful and you know that so many people worked so hard on that movie," the actor said.
(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy. Editing by Jill Serjeant and Andre Grenon)