PLOT: Norman Babcock is misunderstood. He has always had the ability to speak to people after they had died, yet nobody believes him. To his family and classmates, he seems to be just plain odd. Yet on the eve of the anniversary of a dark time in this small town’s history, Norman is faced with a monster size responsibility. Somehow he must stop a century’s old witch’s curse in order to keep the dead from rising from their graves.
It is not hard to imagine certain audience members not appreciating a movie like PARANORMAN. The stop motion animated feature is drenched in horror references and it even offers a few jokes that might not sit well with some parents. However, if you let that get in the way you’ll be missing one of the most entertaining and joyfully macabre animated features of the year. It may be filled with ghosts, witches and zombies, yet it is more human and honest than most family oriented films. And yes, if you love horror movies it also happens to be one of the best genre films of the year as well.
Norman – voiced by LET ME IN’s Kodi Smit McPhee - sees dead people. His deceased grandma (Elaine Stritch) sits on the couch knitting what grandmother’s knit while Norman watches zombie movies on TV. She talks to him constantly. Sadly nobody really believes that Norman has a gift to speak to the dear departed. Not his mother (Leslie Mann). Not his father (Jeff Garlin). And most definitely not his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick)! However, there is one heavy set boy named Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) and a creepy uncle (John Goodman) that has faith in our hero and his supernatural abilities. When Norman’s uncle emerges warning his nephew of an evil witch bringing the dead back to life, the young boy must find a way to stop a town curse that has continued for 300 years.
Let’s get this out of the way right now… PARANORMAN is a better horror story than most of its recent R-rated counterparts. There is no real gore clearly and it is safe for most little ones, but the story is at once fanciful, sometimes scary and always engaging. The script by Chris Butler occasionally goes for an easy joke and it can betray the heart of the film. However, the horror references are for the most part very entertaining – the FRIDAY THE 13th bit is priceless. All laughing aside, this is simply a great story. It even manages a few genuinely spooky moments which might terrify the very young just a bit. This would’ve been a thrilling live action scary movie if you amped up the horror factor and the body count. Even on its own, there is a good chance that genre fans will be smiling from ear to ear.
First time writer/director Chris Butler sure knows how to tell a good ghost story. The filmmaker previously worked as a storyboard supervisor for the equally good CORALINE. Here, in his feature film debut, he manages to create such a remarkable vision. The gloomy cemetery looks as though the headless horseman would feel right at home. Even the more common scenes such as Norman’s school or his home seem picturesque. The animation is extremely impressive making it easy to step into this world of misunderstood monsters and men. However this is another case of the 3D not really adding to the story, and in some cases it became slightly distracting.
As far as the cast is concerned, there was clearly a real effort to match the voices with the characters. This was quite obvious as most of the time the animated characters looked strikingly similar to their real life counterparts. Christopher Mintz-Plasse lends his voice to Alvin - a resident bully - and he is particularly good here. Kendrick, McPhee, Mann, Garlin and the rest of the cast all help deliver terrific performances. Even the evil witch (Jodelle Ferland) is an effective addition in one of the best sequences of the film, visually and story wise as well. Casey Affleck adds a little humor as Neil’s older, and much more buff brother Mitch. Some of the other cast members include Tempestt Bledsoe as Sheriff Hooper and the great Bernard Hill as The Judge.
PARANORMAN is a wistfully entertaining movie that manages to be a solid genre picture as well as a family film. Besides the impressive animation and the well chosen actors, the score by Jon Brion is fantastic. Albeit as visually impressive as it may be, the 3D seems superfluous and the sometimes adult humor may leave a few parents a little uncomfortable. Yet there is so much to love that this is arguably the best animated film of the summer – possibly of the year. Irreverent, a little spooky and a lot of hopeful make PARANORMAN a frighteningly good fable about being a square peg in a round hole.
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