ParaNorman is not a kid’s film. It’s funny, at times genuinely creepy and gruesome, and deals with themes in a way that most little kids aren’t going to get. That said, it’s a pretty good film for the movie season’s interval before Oscar-bait films start pouring into theaters.
Here’s a preview:
Released August 17, 2012
Written by Chris Butler
Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell
Starring Anna Kendrick, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, Leslie Mann, and Tempestt Bledsoe
* * * * *
Norman (Smit-McPhee) lives in the town of Blithe Hollow, a small presumably New England town that markets itself as a witchy town to tourists. The city’s name sign has a witch on it and there are countless stores and other references to witches as well. Thus, it is unsurprising when the conflict of the story told in this film centers on a witch trial done back in the day.
Norman can see and speak to the dead, although nobody believes this except for the audience and later a delightfully clueless new friend called Neil (Abrizzi). Indeed, Norman’s dead grandmother hangs out in his house all the time. Norman’s parents are not pleased with Norman acting so different, with the dad (Garlin) really filling the stock mold of a concerned dad who becomes overbearing the more concerned he becomes and the mom (Mann) filling the stock mold of being somewhat clueless but coming around enough later to stick up for her boy.
ParaNorman follows what ensues when Norman’s eccentric uncle (Goodman) tells Norman about an annual ritual that Norman has to do now that the uncle is dead. This ritual protects the town from a curse cast on it by a witch being executed centuries before. As the hero’s journey dictates, Norman refuses until eventually being pushed to the point that he cannot deny his destiny anymore. Things don’t go well and the dead rise and a powerful witchy storm threatens the town and the townspeople panic. Norman joins forces with his new friend Neil, Neil’s buff older brother Mitch (Affleck), Norman’s sister Courtney (Kendrick), and the local rather hilarious bully Alvin (Mintz-Plasse) to find a way to not just protect the town for the year but to end the curse once and for all.
This film is very aware of the need to be modern and make characters that are interesting and hip. It’s so aware of that need that it falls into the trap of easy quirkiness and throwaway character traits. Luckily, it’s got heart and the script doesn’t make things very easy on Norman. What’s more, there’s a nice twist to the story line involving the living dead, a twist which involves, possibly for the first time, a redemption of zombies. Furthermore, the script takes time to let comedy develop naturally from the unfolding scenes, making it genuinely funny at times.
What also helps the sometimes easy-way-out script is the excellent voice acting. Everybody does a great job, particularly John Goodman and Casey Affleck.
Last but possibly most important is the animation. This is a visually arresting film, with special attention given to small details that make the world more robust and engaging. The moving tiles, the ghosts that Norman interacts with, the fully realized town– all very cool.
There are genuinely creepy and gruesome scenes in ParaNorman. For this reason, it might be advisable for parents to screen the film before showing it to little kids. On the other hand, parents will probably enjoy the numerous references to the most famous of horror and slasher films far more than kids would.
Content warnings: some creepy and gruesome scenes, some cartoon violence, some language, and some opportunities to have a conversation.
Writing: 3.5 Acting: 4.5 Overall: 4
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