Movie Review: ParaNorman

Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann

Rated PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language, Running time 93 minutes, Animation/Adventure/Comedy

Compare to: The Goonies (1985), Corpse Bride (2005)

I knew I was going to like ParaNorman and thankfully, I was right. Not the most formal way to open a review, but being that I’m review a cartoon intended for (mostly) all ages, it feels appropriate. It seems that while your favorite Christmas movies from childhood are the most recognized for the stop-motion animation process, creepier children’s stories is where the genre has found its niche.

Having watched Coraline (2009) who also made ParaNorman, I had an idea of what to expect and if you’ve seen that, then you will too. Strange, humorous, and the fine line in between. The only issue I’m seeing is that some of the subject matter may be too serious for many of that kids will be interested while some of their parents might feel the same. That, and any older viewers might find the story of an outcast using their unique abilities to save the day a bit too linear. Other than that, I’m sold.

Norman isn’t the average kid; He sees dead people. But unlike some kids who mope about it all the time, Norman deals with it pretty well. He still has interesting conversations with his grandma, he helps his friend get in touch with his dead dog, and the town is surprisingly more alive with all the ghosts walking around. But after a warning from another deceased relative, Norman finds out he needs to perform a certain ritual before sunset, or a horde of invading zombies takes over the town.

Zombies and stop motion animation go together really well. It’s a sub-genre of horror that has been so over done (Trust me, I know) that putting them into a cartoon only feels right at this point. People don’t take them too seriously and having them attack a group of kids who are doing their best to defeat them is actually a pretty good match. The violence is kept at a minimal, of course.

Great voice casting too. Casey Affleck pops up as Mitch, Norman’s friend’s older brother, the beef-headed jock whose lines are as funny as he looks. He’s not the jock in the typical sense, giving wedgies and calling people “squirt.” He’s just an idiot. When Norman’s sister asks, “Do you use free weights or something? Because your deltoids are HUGE.” To which he responds, “What? No! I’ve never used deltoids in my life. You can test me.” It’s a nice relief after growing up watching movie after movie that (understandably) depicts the jock as a bully. An idiot is bad enough, but he is likable.

Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Norman and does a great job at it. Smit-McPhee, who may be known best for his role as Owen in 2010’s Let Me In; the remake of the Swedish vampire film. He’s great in that too and his role as Norman fits perfectly. The young, weird loner seems to be his thing so far, which is fine with me. The best thing about getting younger actors to actually play the parts of kids in animation is that it brings the character to life the way an adult voice actor couldn’t no matter how high pitched their voice is. It feels like a character rather than a creation. Then again, in a movie like this, the “creation” aspect steals the shows. It may have been the making of Team America: World Police when the prop master mentioned that movies like this are interesting because if you want a chair, you don’t go out and buy a chair; you have to go and make a little chair.”

The point is, the movie isn’t perfect with its fairly Tim Burton-ish plot (The weird kids prevail against the normies! Weeee!) but if you don’t appreciate the time and effort it takes to make a stop motion film, you’ll be missing out on all the fun.

Grade: B

Also, the ending has a song by Jack White at the end which goes with the movie about as well as one could (Titled Little Ghost), while a post credits clip reveals a fast forward look at the physical creation of Norman. Good stuff.

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