"ParaNorman" began its production in 2009 -- which should give you a rough idea of just how long it takes to produce a stop-motion animation film. Three years later, the film -- a mild box-office success about a young boy who can communicate with the dead, a trait that helps him save his hometown -- was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards alongside blockbusters like "Brave" and "Wreck-It Ralph." So, yes, when we spoke to "ParaNorman" co-director and screenwriter Chris Butler on Thursday, the change in his voice was audible when he stated that, today, he felt "vindication" with the film's nomination.
Personally, I felt pretty sure "ParaNorman" would get a nomination. But were you nervous?
Yes. I was. I was crapping myself. You just never know. We know that, critically, we got some really good buzz. But, in a year that 21, I think, were put up for nomination ... I don't know, you just can never tell. So, I was definitely nervous.
And it did fine at the box office, but it wasn't a huge domestic blockbuster. People who saw it, liked it -- but not everyone saw it. Was that a concern?
When it comes to the Oscars, that's less of a concern. And, actually, I think that's born out with the nominations today. "Frakenweenie, "ParaNorman," "Pirates! Band of Misfits" -- none of them did big bucks at the box office. But, they were all critically regarded. And today is all about critical recognition, I think. It never really nods to the finance stuff.
Did you always feel that "ParaNorman" would have longer legs than its initial box office release?
I hope so. I just think that when we were making it, we knew we were making something special. And by that I mean I knew we weren't just making some kind of gimmicky, flash-in-the-pan kind of thing. We weren't making a movie that was about bright colors -- we were making something that had something to say. And I think it was a brave movie. And we made exactly the movie we wanted to make, and we were encouraged to do so. So, that's what makes it really special today: to have that acknowledged.
"Rango," a similar movie in tone, won Best Animated Feature last year. Does a movie like that give you hope that the Pixar machine isn't unbeatable? Does that give you hope for "ParaNorman"?
You know, fingers crossed. It would be great if we did. "Rango" is a really good example, I think, of proving that animation in itself is not a genre, it's a medium. More and more, recently, I think animated movies are being acknowledged for being movies -- not for being animated. "Rango" is one of them. "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is another. And if you look at the five nominations today, in tone and aesthetic, they are all very, very different. So that is definitely encouraging to me. We went into this wanting to make a movie. We didn't go into into this wanting to make a cartoon.
To that point: Maybe "polarizing" is the wrong word, but people had a lot of different reactions to the third act. It was very dark.
Yes. And the third act was always integral to it. In fact, the whole story ... it's often the case in animation that it's written as it goes along and you are constantly reworking. Often I've worked on movies where I don't know what the third act is until we started shooting. I didn't want to do it that way -- the big revelation stuff in our third act was the first thing I started writing. It was always the heart of the movie. There isn't another "ParaNorman." I think a lot of people, when they saw the trailers, or when they first heard about it, thought it would be a spoofy, zombie thing ...
I think they definitely did.
Yeah. So, we actually set out to surprise people. We wanted people to sit up and take notice. And I think that worked. I hope it worked.
"ParaNorman" was such a long process. Then it comes out and it does OK at the box office. But does today feel like it achieved what it was supposed to achieve?
Yes ... there is definitely an element of vindication for your efforts. I think that maybe part of the reason that three stop-motion movies are nominated is that people understand and love the process. [Ed. note: "Frankenweenie" and "Pirates! Band of Misfits" were both stop-motion movies as well.] I think people realize how much effort goes into making one of these things. How much practical effort. Scores and scores of people and artists and technicians working on this. I think people actually acknowledge that and I think that's part of the reason that it's been afforded such love today. Equally for me, it's having people acknowledge the story. Like we were just talking about: having people see something that is slightly out of the ordinary that takes some chances and applaud it for that? That's what today is for me. The applause for telling the story that we did.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.