In February of 2021, it was announced that LAIKA Studios and boutique home media distributor Shout! Factory made a deal to bring LAIKA’s incredible stop-motion films to U.S. audiences’ homes. Toward the end of 2021, Shout! Factory released Blu-ray/DVD combo editions of Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014), and Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) that included both legacy bonus features and brand-new materials created just for the new release. Now, to up the ante, the studio and distributor are releasing these four films upgraded to 4K UHD with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. Excited home audiences can select from either a regular or steelbook edition with Coraline and ParaNorman releasing in December 2022 and the other two hitting shelves February 28th, 2023. What follows is an exploration of the 4K UHD release of co-directors Sam Fell (Flushed Away) and Chris Butler (Missing Link) in the second LAIKA release ParaNorman.
The New England town of Blithe Hollow looks like any other as the leaves turn reddish-brown and the wind blows cold. But it’s not like any other town as a secret from the past is about to burst forth from the ground and the only thing that can stop it is an outcast child named Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smith-McPhee). The same thing that makes our reluctant hero a social pariah is also the thing which may prevent the utter destruction of his home: the gift of communicating with the dead.
If you’re interested in learning about the film and the bonus features, head over to the September 2021 ParaNorman LAIKA Studios Edition Blu-ray home release review. Moving forward, this will be focused solely on the 4K UHD edition.
ParaNorman is my one of my top favorite LAIKA films due its striking visuals and its hilarious comedic sensibility, but mostly due to the subversive nature of its script and positively heartbreaking finale. The reaction to the film as a whole is further amplified with the 4K UHD with HDR, specifically Dolby Vision. In the false opening, the reds of the title cards are a tad deeper, the greens a touch more rotten-looking. Later, in a scene like Norman confronting the zombified town council, the increased range of color allows for more accurate shadows, a more snotty green, and more natural browns within the space of the Town Hall the group are hiding in. In that same scene, the increased data of the 4K allows for more visible detail on the puppets themselves so that we can see more defined details in the face of Zombie Judge (voiced by Bernard Hill), such as the differing color in the skin around his eyes versus the rest of his face. An even better example takes place much earlier in the film, just before the audience sees the world through Norman’s eyes as he walks to school. In this sequence, he passes by a bike and a car: on the bike, you can see the tiny pieces of rust on the spokes while, on the car, you can make out the missing paint and rust on the body of the car above a tire. Perhaps my favorite detail comes in what we can now see when the witch takes form above the Town Hall building, the detail of the material appearing far more tangible than ever. These are things that one might notice in the prior releases but wouldn’t pay attention to, whereas, with the increased detail afforded by the larger data storage capability of a 4K UHD disc, these things (and many others) are more easily seen.
The 4K UHD remaster edition also includes a brand-new Dolby Atmos track, however, that could not be tested as my home theater does not yet have that capability. What can be stated with authority is the clarity on the English 5.1 track plays as strongly and clear as on the previous Blu-ray LAIKA/Shout! re-release. If you were happy with the sound in the previous re-release, lack Dolby Atmos, and pick up this edition, you’ll be just as happy hear.
Speaking of the prior releases, the liner notes and on-disc materials with the 4K UHD remaster match everything included in the previous Blu-ray re-release. The new featurettes, the brief essay and storyboard art in the liner notes, and all the other legacy materials are included with not a thing missing. Then what’s new?
The obvious difference is that, in addition to a standard edition of ParaNorman in a 4K UHD/Blu-ray Combo, you can also get this remaster in a steelbook edition. The artwork on case is an original a creation of Austin, Texas,-based artist Kevin Tong and will delight any fan of the film. Though the back and front make up one total image, the front includes the central children characters with the spooky version of the witch’s face coming after them, the hands of the zombies bursting through the ground on the back. On the inside are the liner notes (the same in every way as the prior Blu-ray), two discs (1 4K UHD, 1 Blu-ray) with brand-new artwork on them, specifically of Norman running scared on the 4K disc and the other kids on the Blu-ray, and the background of the inside is a close-up of the witch chasing them. The inside artwork on the previous Blu-ray was a neat design of repeating zombie faces, so this has a touch more personality.
The question of whether to upgrade or not is tricky. As this is my second-favorite LAIKA film and one of my favorite zombie-related movies, even with the repeated bonus materials and my inability to access the Dolby Atmos track, I would still want to get this because of the improved picture. It’s not just that it’s vibrant, it’s that the colors are more accurate, there’s enhanced depth of field, and, oddly, it all feels more realistic in its presentation (the magic of LAIKA!). However, if you lack the connection to the material and already own/are happy with the previous Blu-ray releases, upgrading to the 4K UHD edition may be a harder sell, especially when finances may play a part in double-dipping. While I don’t think anyone would regret the pick-up, make sure you consider all the options before taking action. It’s absolutely worth it, but not necessary.
ParaNorman Legacy Special Features:
- Inside LAIKA – Discovering the Characters and Effects of ParaNorman Featuring Never-Before-Seen Test Footage (12:52)
- Inside LAIKA – Revisiting the Puppets aith LAIKA’s Animation Team
- Feature-Length Storyboards (1:32:03)
- Foreword by Bill Desowitz, Crafts & Animation Editor for IndieWire
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Chris Butler and Co-Director Sam Fell
- “Peering Through the Veil”
- Seven (7) Original Featurettes
For more information on the film, head to LAIKA Studios’s official ParaNorman website.
Available on 4K UHD/Blu-ray Combo from Shout! Studios in both regular and steelbook editions December 13th, 2022 31st, 2021.