'ParaNorman' is top-notch stop-motion animation that is fun for the whole family, normal or otherwise. But beware the dead and undead are not always of the cuddly variety.
For a long time, the under-aged freaks of the world only had one animated film with which to fill their time. And while Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas is still a favourite, it was time to widen the selection. First was the big screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline (2009), and now the same studio has once again indulged their animated dark side to bring us ParaNorman.
Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is 11 years old and his best friend is his grandmother – but she's dead. He doesn't have many living friends because people are generally frightened of Norman's unique ability to converse with the ghosts that still haunt Blithe Hollow – even his father is at the end of his rope. But when the town crazy (a.k.a. Norman's uncle) tells the gifted boy he's the only one who can stop a 300-year-old witch's curse from overrunning the town with zombies, even Norman is skeptical. Nonetheless he goes to the graveyard to do his duty, only things don't go as planned and with the help of his new friends he has to save the town from supernatural destruction.
If it's one thing the Brits know, it's black comedy. This is by no means the darkest humour to emerge from the U.K., but some caution should be exercised before taking children who may not be ready to face the sometimes crueler realities of life. For example, wrestling with a dead body may be too disturbing for some; while others may not want to hear the hard fact that "You can't stop bullying - it's human nature" (a sentiment expressed by fellow - though chubbier - victim, Neil). The narrative also addresses a deeper theory of revenge, questioning the Biblical philosophy of "an eye for an eye" during a very touching exchange between Norman and the vengeful witch.
The stop-motion animation is once again mesmerizing. A complementary style for the ghoulish narrative subject, the macabre zombies and plump townsfolk come to life on screen becoming more than the standard cartoon. Moreover, the sets are stunning, particularly the dark magic that swirls menacing, richly coloured clouds in the sky. The only blemish is the characters' lips do not always appear to sync with their words. The 3D is subtle, but effective. It's unfortunate the tint of the glasses darkens the vibrant colours on the screen.
ParaNorman never goes long without a laugh-out-loud moment, though it shows its depth with some thoughtful contemplation as well.
Directors:Chris Butler and Sam FellStarring:Kodi Smit-McPhee, Casey Affleck and Christopher Mintz-Plasse