ParaNorman, the newest film from the animators that brought usCoraline, tells the story of 11-year-old Norman, a bit of a social outcast, to say the least. He watches nothing but zombie movies, he has posters of monsters and ghouls papering the walls of his room like he lives in a perpetual Halloween world, and he talks to dead people. This includes his dead grandmother, as well as dozens of other ghosts just walking the streets. His family does not understand him, particularly his father, and he has a total of zero friends at school. Sensing the setup of an underdog story?
The plot kicks in when Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee from the 2010 film Let Me In) befriends another social outcast, the overweight and lovable Neil (voiced by relative newcomer Tucker Albrizzi). When Norman is told by his strange uncle Mr. Prenderghast, who shares Norman’s ability to communicate with the dead, that he must save his town of Blithe Hollow from an evil witch’s centuries-old curse, Norman must decide if he should use his ability to speak with those beyond the grave to save his town but remain a misfit, or to ignore his crazy uncle and just pretend to be normal.
ParaNorman becomes a story of friendship, and a story of being true to yourself. Aside from the story, one thing that sets this film apart is the extremely memorable cast of characters, from Norman and Neil, to Norman’s family members and Norman’s nemesis Alvin (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse—better known as his Superbad alias McLovin). As dark and twisted (for a kids’ movie) as it is, the film is extremely funny and clever, much of which is due to the great performances. Casey Affleck, playing Neil’s buff older brother Mitch, provides some of the bigger laughs in the movie. The cast is rounded out with voices such as Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, and John Goodman as the aforementioned Mr. Prenderghast.
The other thing that really makes this movie work is the terrific animation. The filmmakers do a great job at bringing the characters to life, not just with the above named voice talent, but also with the utterly unique and vibrant visual style. Every character, like the many ghosts and undead that fill the screen, as well as every single main character, are animated to perfection. Aside from the characters are the Tim Burton-esque backdrops and incredible attention to detail. It is no surprise that several of the creative minds behind ParaNormanhave worked on several animated Tim Burton projects (Director Chris Butler, for example, worked as a storyboard artist on Corpse Bride, and Producer Arianne Sutner was a Production Assistant on the classic The Nightmare Before Christmas). This style shines through, giving the film a distinct and charming look.
While there is plenty that makes ParaNorman fun and exciting for the whole family, the plot is a bit thin. The second act seems to stretch on for longer than it needs to, and the story feels like it is treading on pretty familiar territory. However, that is not to take away from the rest of the film. From the fun characters to the impressive visuals, ParaNorman is a spooky good time.
Movie Review by Mike Danner