The last time a movie kid could see the dead was in The Sixth Sense, a film not meant for actual kids to watch. Well, now kids more or less have their own version of it in ParaNorman, a largely enjoyable and well-cast stop-motion animation horror comedy a la The Corpse Bride and Coraline that ultimately may end up giving many young’uns nightmares.
The unique kid here is Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a spiky-haired 11-year-old in a small New England town whose I-can-see-and-talk-to-dead-people claims frustrate his family and make him the target of bullies. His ability comes in handy, however, when a witch’s curse, which has been kept at bay for 300 years, threatens the town and he must find a way to stop it.
Writer and co-director Chris Butler’s timely script essentially revolves around ostracism and the lasting damage it can cause, as people’s fear of someone being different not only created the curse in the first place, it subsequently turned Norman’s uncle (John Goodman) into a crazy town outcast and has wreaked emotional havoc on Norman himself.
A scary experience, I imagine, and Butler and co-director Sam Fell relate it visually in a big, supernatural-scary way. Almost too scary, in fact, for the young demographic the film is targeting. If Norman’s terrifying visions and the sight of corpses crawling out of their graves don’t frighten the tots, then the giant, menacing, witch-faced storm surely will.
I did appreciate the stop-motion technique (despite its being augmented by computer), a style that seems all the more refreshing in our era of all-CGI kid flicks, and Butler and Fell leaven the action with plenty of humor, generally of the macabre variety (i.e. a corpse’s detached hand poking someone in the eye), and include a couple of neat little references to other horror films.
The voice cast is uniformly terrific: McPhee perfectly conveys Norman’s despondent nature, Tucker Albrizzi is sweetly amusing as Norman’s newfound chubby pal Neil, and Anna Kendrick and Casey Affleck are just plain hilarious as Norman’s boy-crazy older sister and Neil’s lunkhead older brother. The standout, though, is Christopher Mintz-Plasse, he who has played more than his share of nerdy types in live-action movies, but here, thanks to the magic of animation, plays a bully. – [DVD]
DVD Release Date: 11/27/12