Movie Review: ParaNorman

From the studio of Henry Selick’s Coraline comes LAIKA’s new stop-motion picture ParaNorman. Chris Butler wrote the screenplay and is also making his directing debut with Sam Fell (Flushed Away). Butler is known for his work with the storyboard and design on The Tale of Despereaux and Corpse Bride.

ParaNorman is an imaginative adventure involving a witch curse, and the only hero that must emerge and save the town is the outcast Norman, voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In).  The movie takes place in the town of Blithe Hollow where the biggest attraction is the history of a 300-year-old witch hunt.

Norman Babcock is an 11-year-old zombie fanatic and the local freak because he claims he can see and talk to ghosts. Norman likes to watch TV with his dead grandmother’s ghost (Elaine Stritch), and gets a lot of grief from his family for not being normal. Norman’s mother, Sandra (Leslie Mann) is a caring and somewhat spacey mother. The father, Perry (Jeff Garlin) is a disappointed and pessimistic father figure who wants to have a normal son. Norman’s sister, Courtney (Anna Kendrick) is a cheerleading superficial teenager who is embarrassed of her brother. To make things worse for Norman, the nitwit school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is his biggest enemy and tortures him every chance he gets.

There is one person on Norman’s side: the crazy, old, and on the verge of dying Uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman). The raspy Mr. Prenderghast takes a liking to Norman because he too can see ghosts, and his main goal is to contact Norman and tell him how to stop the witch’s curse. Norman must read his Uncle’s book at the witch’s grave, but a septet of zombies rise from theirs in the process which starts the race against time to save the town and not get eaten by zombies.

The movie doesn’t focus solely on Norman. Once the zombies start their pursuit, Norman’s only friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), Neil’s sporty older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck), Alvin, and his sister Courtney make up an unlikely bunch that must take on the terrifying task of ending the witch’s curse.

The film’s script contains some general humor that will help the film appeal to a broader audience than just kids. Neil is the center to most of the comedy, and he has a lot in common with Norman because he is picked on at school due to his weight. The first time Neil and Norman hang out, Norman confesses it is true that he can see ghosts, and Neil wants to communicate with his dog that was recently run over ironically by an animal rescue van.

ParaNorman lacks the disturbing characters and gloomy vibes from Coraline, and instead includes realistic characters and relationships despite the fact that zombies come back from the dead and appear to want to eat the brains of every person in town. The stop-motion in ParaNorman is smooth and radiant, and the 3D enhances the action scenes to a level that kids, adults, and anybody in between will enjoy.

The first stop-motion picture in 3D ever created was Coraline, and ParaNorman is LAIKA’s second. Director and screenplay writer, Chris Butler worked with Tim Burton on Corpse Bride, and I couldn’t help but notice how the movie had a subtle Burton dark vibe to it, but with the charm of something like Scooby-Doo.  There are some inspiring moments like Norman’s grandmother telling Norman, “There’s nothing wrong with being scared, just as long as you don’t let it change who you are.”

I respect the filmmakers of ParaNorman because they intertwined a theme that is good to see in all kids movies.  Even though things may seem really terrible and hopeless, in reality even the biggest problems can be solved with a little courage and determination.

by Daniel Pritchett

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