Within moments of the beginning scenes of Chris Butler (first film) and Sam Fell’s (The Tale of Despereaux, Flushed Away) picture ParaNorman you can see that these two guys really like horror films. If you are of a certain age or a fan of old school horror you will see the similarities or nods to monster films of a certain era. Their stop-motion film, from the same studio (Laika) as the wonderful Coraline, about a boy who can communicate with the dead is creepy scary. While it is spooky it is also a lot of fun. Don’t be fooled though as this is not an animated film for kids. The fun to be had is for an older audience as it has plenty of smarts and maturity.
Smart but an outsider socially, Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Road, Let Me In) lives in a town called Blithe Hollow. A special kid, Norman is able to communicate with the dead. He uses this sixth sense to speak to his deceased grandmother (Elaine Stritch – from television’s 30 Rock) and other ghoulish creatures. Though this “talent” is no big deal to Norman his mom (Leslie Mann – Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and dad (Jeff Garlin – Toy Story 3, Cars 2) are worried that they have a crazy kid on their hands. His talking to the dead also has negative ramifications as it bugs his sister (Anna Kendrick – Up in the Air, 50/50) and brings unwanted attention from a bully (Christopher Mintz-Plasse – Superbad, Kick-Ass). Worst of all is warning that another social outcast, his uncle named Prenderghast (John Goodman – The Artist, The Big Lebowski) – a man shunned because he has the same ability as Norman, gives him that very soon an old curse will be in effect that will cause the dead to rise again.
When the undead come to life waving pitchforks and desiring human flesh, it is up to Norman, his overweight classmate/friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi – from television’s Big Time Rush) and Neil’s jock older brother, Mitch (Casey Affleck – Gone Baby Gone, Tower Heist) to fight them off.
Just like most British films there is plenty of witty and high level humour. You have to keep your attention focused for the never-ending gags and one-liners. At times I almost expected a guffaw and a slap on the back due to the nature of all the laughs. During the second half of the film things get more serious.
It certainly isn’t a film that tries to be like all the others visually or with its message. While the humour mixed with animated horror are the focal points of the film there are also underlying messages about how society tries to ostracize or bully all those who don’t fit in and how ridiculous the mob mentality is when you look at it from a distance. ParaNorman fights for the underdog or the outcast. Argues that they are a necessary part of society; they are what makes life interesting.
The animation, which was all hand done, is imperfect and always moving jerkily kinda like the stuff that Tim Burton does. This adds plenty to the creepiness factor. You can also tell by the way it was made that plenty of thought, sweat and effort was put into the making of ParaNorman. It certainly adds to the creepiness factor. The film is presented in 3D and while it is not as good as I remember that in Coraline being it is still impressive to the eye and adds to the effect of the film.