First there were the vacationing monsters of Hotel Transylvania. Then there were resurrected pets in Frankenweenie. And now, rounding out 2012’s trio of horror-themed animated comedies, there’s ParaNorman, with its witch curses, zombies and weird kids who see dead people. Of the three, Frankenweenie remains the sweetest and most consistently satisfying, but it’s similarly stop-motion ParaNorman that tops in terms of character creation, wit and visual wizardry. It’s also hands-down the most atmospheric, and genuinely creepy.
ParaNorman seems intent on challenging expectation all-round. Opening with a tribute to 70s exploitation slashers, the film quickly establishes its plot while throwing around some audacious one-liners that will sail right over young children in the audience. So we meet young Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is misunderstood and bullied by everyone – including his own family – because of his ability to communicate with the dead. But this freakish skill makes Norman invaluable when a 300 year old witch’s curse triggers a zombie invasion of his hometown. Only he can appease the slackjaws and vengeful spirits.
The scale of the undead uprising is a lot less grand than it’s presented in the promotional material, and tonally ParaNorman bounds about haphazardly. However, it’s easy to get caught up in the Goonies-style fun. When the film is aiming for a laugh – which probably doesn’t happen enough – it hits the spot nicely.
ParaNorman is an original story from animation studio Laika, which was previously responsible for adapting Neil Gaiman’s nightmarish Coraline. ParaNorman doesn’t feel as offbeat as its predecessor but it’s still pretty unconventional, refusing to snip off its barbs. After all, when have you ever watched an animated film that made reference to mob mentality, police brutality and homosexuality?
Carrying the film along is its band of distinct characters. In a time of sleek CGI-animation, ParaNorman adopts a grungy, “ugly” aesthetic, where the entire world, and its inhabitants, is slightly skewed, out of proportion and worn. Each figure is unique and, thanks to Laika’s first time use of 3D colour printers for face creation, they’re fantastically expressive as well – more nuanced and smooth in their transitions than seen with stop-motion before.
It also doesn’t hurt that the characters are paired with spot-on voice acting. Notables in a cast that include Casey Affleck and John Goodman are Anna Kendrick as Norman’s lips-pursing cheerleader sister, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as bully Alvin. Another clear favourite with audiences is Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), a tubby, good-natured outsider who refuses to let Norman isolate himself.
Although ParaNorman seems to lose its sense of humour as it approaches its climax, the final sequence is nonetheless very impressive – and even more intense than a couple of zombie pursuit scenes earlier in the film. Parents with very sensitive littlies should beware, but more resilient kids will be absolutely fine, and rewarded with a more sophisticated message about overcoming hurt and opening yourself to others.
ParaNorman is well worth watching, although again the 3D is nothing notable. This is a pity because, as with Frankenweenie, pocket-unfriendly 3D is the only viewing option available to local audiences.
Last Updated: November 15, 2012