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ParaNorman

by Kevin Taft
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Friday Aug 17, 2012
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From the makers of "Coraline" comes "ParaNorman," another quirky, creepy, fun offering featuring an oddball kid fighting off supernatural entities. Using stop-motion animation and 3D, it’s Focus Feature’s latest offering in the sort of Tim Burton meets Sam Raimi world for the younger set creating a whimsical balance of laughs and shivers.

Set in the town of Blithe Hollow, we meet Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee of "The Road") and his family: confused dad (Jeff Garlin), oddball mom (Leslie Mann), shallow sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), and his grandmother (Elaine Stritch) who just happens to be a ghost. You see, Norman has the sixth-sense. He not only can see dead people, he can also interact with them. And in "ParaNorman," the dead are everywhere.


At school Norman is picked on for being the kid that sees spooks and is bullied by the school jerk Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). His only friend is the hefty Neil (Tucker Albizzi) who is self-deprecating to the point of actually having amazing self-esteem. Odd, I know. But in this film, everything is odd. In fact, the town’s history is that of a three hundred year old witch hunt that is the town’s calling card. Everything is witch-oriented from the names of the shops to what the shops sell. It is this bit of lore that sets the plot of "ParaNorman" in motion.

When Norman’s estranged uncle Prederghast (John Goodman) shows up telling him a secret truth about the town history, along with a curse that will unleash the witch’s wrath on the town, he must try to correct the town’s three hundred year old mistake. But things don’t quite go as planned, especially when the witch’s spirit stirs up seven zombies that come after Norman and his friends, including his sister and Neil’s muscle-bound brother Mitch (Casey Affleck.) What results is a whacky night of terror, chases, angry townspeople, and a zombie attack that might not be what it seems. Oh, and there’s the spirit of the witch that threatens to destroy everything in her path.


I won’t reveal anything more about the plot as the fun of the film is the places it takes us. While the humor in the first third is a bit more clever and irreverent, the film does tend to go for easier jokes as it progresses. That doesn’t take away from the hilarity of some of the situations and lines however, especially from out of the mouth of Neil who is such a different take on a familiar character you instantly fall in love with him.

The animation by LAIKA studios and Focus Features is terrific and the production design is uniformly excellent and inventive. This is the first stop-motion movie to utilize a specific color printer to create replacement faces for its puppets, which allows for a wider range of expressions for the characters. The sets and characters are so detailed; in fact, that one sequence in a bathroom took one year to shoot. Another where Norman walks through the town saying hello to all his ghost friends took two. If that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is.

While, the plot gets a bit muddy toward the end and it goes on for a wee bit longer than it needs to (similar to "Coraline"), but "ParaNorman" is still a huge treat for animation and stop-motion lovers, and is frequently hilarious for both young and old. Destined to become somewhat of a classic, it’s too bad this didn’t get released in October as it is the perfect Halloween treat. It has the feel of "Hocus Pocus" meets "Nightmare Before Christmas" - which is a good thing.


Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to ’Star Wars’ and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg. He can be seen in the flesh on the weekly PBS movie review series "Just Seen It."

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