Laika studio’s ‘ParaNorman’ is a quirky stop-motion animated family film that like ‘Coraline’ from the same studio is a beautifully shot movie surrounded by the subject of death and zombies. The movie ‘s greatest assets are its clarity, color and real look to it, especially in 3D; this is stop-motion at its best. What the movie lacked most was comedy, it does have some but it needed a bigger dose of it seeing how much it talks about death, bullying and being an outcast; a family film with these dominant subjects needs much more comedic release. The storyline gets too convoluted and dark to the point where it can get almost boring, especially for little kids but an older audience can definitely appreciate it more.
Norman Babcock (Kodi-Smit-McPhee) is a misunderstood 11 year-old that has the ability to communicate with the dead; this makes him an outcast in school as well as in his own home. Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) a chubby kid who knows all-too-well the feeling of being bullied and different, follows Norman around and looks up to him. His estranged uncle Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman) informs Norman about a curse Blithe Hallow, his town, is under and he’s the only one that can stop it. Without planning it Norman ends up with a group of “ghost busters” his friend Neil, his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), Neil’s brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) and the school’s bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
Details are the key to this movie, which are carried out masterfully and the cartoonish way in which some of the characters were crafted add a playful angle to it. Norman is a strong character and the fact that it’s a real kid voicing him, makes him the more convincing and real. Neil is a great sidekick and is the one that gives us the most comedic moments, which could have been exploited even more. The movie has a moment where it almost becomes like an episode out of ‘Scooby Doo’, where the kids are escaping zombies in their van, giving the movie familiar elements to the grown ups watching it and introducing a new generation to them. The message the film has against bullying is powerful, it also teaches children to believe in themselves and their capabilities giving the story depth.
I don’t understand the reason why directors like Chris Butler, Henry Selick and Tim Burton like making family films about zombies, vampires and death; these are bizarre subjects to present children with. Although this one paints a pretty picture with Norman’s grandma (Elaine Stritch), it becomes too sinister and dark when we encounter the witch behind the town’s curse, Aggie (Jodelle Ferland). The film tries to come back to an uplifting note after the second part, teaching that vengeance is not the way to go. The problem is that it goes to such a dark place that it’s hard to forget where it took you, something that comedy could have helped and this might scare younger children.
The action scenes in the movie are fun and look very real; this can be credited to the animators as well as the camera work. I recommend this film for older kids, perhaps 8 or 10 and up, as the main plot of the movie can easily give nightmares and scare little ones. I appreciate the attention to detail and craftsmanship of this film, as these are the main things that will keep you watching. I wish the storyline were a little more lighthearted so that it could be more entertaining and not as serious. However, this quirky, funky, spooky film is unique in its own way and teaches some valuable lessons about understanding others and believing in yourself, qualities that make it worth watching.