ParaNorman Directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler
Written by Chris Butler
Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Jeff Garlin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Rated PG | 93 Minutes
Release Date: August 17, 2012
Produced by Coraline creators Laika, ParaNorman is a kid-friendly, stop-motion animated spookshow – a witches’ brew of ’80s classics like Monster Squad and Beetlejuice, with a dash of 1993’s Hocus Pocus and a pinch of Gil Kenan’s Monster House.
The film takes place in the small New England town of Blithe Hollow, where a centuries’-old witch’s curse has unleashed a horde of puritanical zombies upon the townspeople. If there’s one thing worse than puritans, it’s undead puritans. Turns out the zombies were villagers way back when who, thanks to moral panic and mass hysteria, condemned a young girl to her death for practicing witchcraft.
Blithe Hollow’s only hope is a misunderstood, horror-obsessed boy named Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), who has the ability to speak with the dead. Aided by best friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and Neil’s big brother Mitch (Casey Affleck), Norman will face ghosts and ghouls to save his town from a 300-year-old witch with one Hell of a grudge.
ParaNorman is a delightful stop-motion masterwork – a beautifully bizarre adventure into horror that doesn’t shy away from the realities of death and humanity’s inherent tendency to persecute that which it doesn’t understand. Kodi Smit-McPhee is fantastic young actor, from his work in John Hillcoat’s The Road to Matt Reeves’ highly underrated Let Me In, Smit-McPhee has a knack for communicating the loneliness of an outcast and the longing for human interaction. As Norman, Smit-McPhee drives the heart of the film with only his voice – aided by superb animation by Laika.
His fellow voice performers, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Blithe Hollow’s resident bully, Alvin, and Albrizzi who plays Neil, do a fantastic job of realizing their stop-motion counterparts. The film is chock-full of references to classic horror: Norman’s ringtone is John Carpenter’s Halloween theme, his room is decorated in zombie posters and Neil even dons a Jason Voorhees goalie mask at one point – but only because he wants to skip the whole ‘fighting the zombies’ thing and play hockey in the street instead.
The film begins with a stupendous “Feature Presentation” introduction in 4:3 aspect ratio, capturing the look and feel of classic ’60s horror movies, showing a lovely young girl in an old dark house trying to outrun brain-craving zombies. As the camera pulls back and the aspect ratio changes to your standard widescreen format and reveals that Norman is watching an old scary movie on his folks’ vintage floor-model television.
Utilizing a brilliant color scheme of lime greens and electric magentas, ParaNorman channels the fun of Halloween without being holiday-centric, though I would be very interested to see a sequel that involves trick-or-treating and jack-o-lanterns and pays homage to slasher films and creature features.
There’s plenty of spooky imagery and beautiful animation as Norman and his pals try to discover the resting place of the condemned witch and free the town from her curse. In many ways, it feels like a ParaNorman could take place in the same universe as Coraline – maybe Laika and Focus Features will implement an Avengers-style franchise plan that sees Coraline and Norman team-up to save the world from supernatural foes. OK, so that probably won’t happen… but it’d be cool if it did.
If you’ve got little ones, ParaNorman is a fun escape from the cookie-cutter talking animals of Madagascar and Ice Age. If you’re looking for a great film that doesn’t talk down to children and instead treats them like adults (like The Goonies, Stand By Me, and Super 8 do) then definitely check this one out. I’ve got three little nephews who are OBSESSED with zombies who will love this charming little movie. Of course, once they get a taste of ParaNorman they’ll probably beg to watch Dawn of the Dead or AMC’s The Walking Dead… which excites me way more than it worries me!