LAIKA's comedy-thriller ParaNorman is an endearingly freaky lesson about tolerance and compassion toward the strange and unusual.
Thu Aug 16 2012
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Consider the possibilities of a Sixth Sense sequel: Haley Joel Osment comes out of the closet (coffin?) declaring his ability to converse with the deceased, and braves nonstop taunting and ridicule from his family members and classmates, but he later redeems himself to the whole community by saving them all from a super-angry dead person. But wait: This is no Bruce Willis psychological thriller—and yet it's not far off. This is ParaNorman, the latest 3-D stop-motion animated adventure to come spiraling out of LAIKA (the same company to release 2009's visually stunning Coraline), which turns out to be a humorous mashup of movies like Disney's Hocus Pocus and Night of the Living Dead.
A film that is bound to resonate with anyone who has dreaded walking into school in the morning, ParaNorman tells the story of Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), an 11-year-old medium who is the source of much confusion for his peers as well as his parents (Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann). He's barely tolerated by his teenage sister (Anna Kendrick) and relentlessly teased by the school bully, Alvin (Christopher Mitz-Plasse). To make matters worse, not only does Norman claim to engage with the dead, but he also keeps tuning out of reality with frightening visions of a 17th-century witch trial—qualities that make the entire town of Blithe Hollow look at him sideways.
Just when Norman thinks things can't possibly get any worse, Norman's outcast uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman) reveals to him that a centuries-old witch's curse threatens the town (hence the strange visions), and that Norman is the only person who can prevent certain zombie-related calamity. Prenderghast, a fellow ghost-seeing town paraiah, kicks the bucket soon after, and take it from this moviegoer: It's best to cover young kids' eyes during a subsequent, rather realistic scene involving cartoon rigor mortis.
What follows is an animated thrill ride of epic proportions—Blithe Hollow is soon invaded by a pack of angry 17th-century zombies that stems from the witch's curse, the entire town flies into chaos, and it's up to Norman to (a) reason with a rageful witch ghost, (b) send the zombies back from whence they came and (c) convince the town's freaked-out adults that they're behaving like children. But with a little help from his sister, new friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), Neil's meathead brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) and Alvin, Norman learns that he may not have to operate as a lone ghostbuster forever.
Given ParaNorman's predeliction for brain-eating zombies and a sampling of horror-movie cliches, parents might wonder if it's totally kid-friendly. True, ParaNorman is probably best for the over-seven community. Yet one of the most memorable things about the film is how intelligent it is. The "be yourself" and "don't judge things you don't understand" kid-movie tropes are brutally overplayed, but you have to give ParaNorman a lot of credit for breathing new life into them, so to speak, too. Whereas some films serve up tolerance and self-acceptance themes like flavorless, uncooked tofu, ParaNorman layers everyday kid concerns in vibrant animation techniques and quirky humor—the end result being that we realize everyone's a little bit "ParaNorman." And that's not such a bad thing.
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Dir. Chris Butler, Sam Fell. 2012. PG. 93 mins. Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick, John Goodman.