In this very sweet and enjoyably macabre stop-motion animated movie, Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) sees dead people. They’re all around him and he’s not scared by them one bit. Sadly, nobody else believes him and he’s picked on at school by mean Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), derided by many others and even given occasional funny looks from his own parents (Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin). He also gets a lot of hassle from his sister (Anna Kendrick), who sees herself as a victim stuck with a brother who everyone classes as a weirdo. It turns out that Norman’s gift is very important, especially when a number of zombies rise up and a 300-year old curse set upon the town by a vengeance-seeking witch looks set to destroy the town.
Directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler (who also wrote the screenplay), ParaNorman is a lovely slice of entertainment for horror fans and children who aren’t too easily scared. It’s not quite as dark as Coraline (the previous animated gem from Laika Entertainment) but it certainly shares space in that same moonlit park with rusty swings, to use a bad metaphor.
Things take a while to warm up though. The little details at the beginning are lovely, as is the scene in which we see what Norman sees, but none of the opening moments are very exciting, or even hugely entertaining for an animated movie. That all starts to change when Norman is befriended by Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) and things shift up a gear when the zombies rise up and the curse starts to take effect.
The voices here are all very good in their respective roles. As well as those already mentioned there are also great turns from Casey Affleck , Bernard Hill and John Goodman. It’s a shame that there aren’t more one-liners scattered throughout the script but every character gets at least one memorable moment, with or without sharp dialogue.
Of course, like most animated movies the look of the thing is of great importance and this is another area in which ParaNorman doesn’t disappoint. It has its own unique style that feels nicely retro while still managing to keep everything very much set in the here and now (well, okay, it feels like an ’80s movie but that’s just a huge bonus for horror fans who grew up through that decade). There are plenty of obvious references to horror cinema of the past but plenty of subtle details all over the place too, making the film an essential purchase to rewatch at leisure.
It may have claimed a place in history by being the first stop-motion film to use a 3D printer in the creation of the characters but it will easily claim a place clutched to the bosom of the horror community (and, if you’ll forgive me, that’s some big, lovely bosom) thanks to the love shown for past horror movies, the selection of enjoyable characters involved in the adventure and the general feeling of it all being, well, pretty close to what fans would receive if Joe Dante ever made an animated movie. I can’t think of any higher praise than that.
DIRECTOR: CHRIS BUTLER, SAM FELL
WRITER: CHRIS BUTLER
STARS: KODI SMIT-MCPHEE, TUCKER ALBRIZZI, ANNA KENDRICK, CASEY AFFLECK, CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE, LESLIE MANN, JEFF GARLIN, BERNARD HILL, JOHN GOODMAN
RUNTIME: 92 MINS APPROX