ParaNorman is a miracle in stop-motion 3D from the wizards at LAIKA (Coraline). Part ghost story and part teen-misfit manifesto, the movie puts the focus on Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), a weird kid who, well, sees dead people, including grouchy Granny (Elaine Stritch). What stars as a harmless spin through Sixth Sense territory escalates into a full-out zombie war, led by a 300-year-old witch (Jodelle Ferland). Brit screenwriter Chris Butler and his co-director, Sam Fell, lace the fun and freight with keen visual wit. My advice? Just go with ParaNorman. There’s magic in it.
Critick’s Pick. ’ParaNorman,’ a beautiful-looking, charmingly heartfelt 3-D stop-motion animation about a boy and his ghouls, comes with an assortment of hair-raising frights. Norman, a sprout whose black hair stands at attention as if he were in a state of perpetual alarm (he is voiced with vivid emotion by Kodi Smit-McPhee), can’t help but be a little creepy. After all, he doesn’t just see dead people, he also hangs out with them, sometimes while watching creature-features on the family TV. And why not, especially given that the old lady busily knitting on the sofa in a lovely pool of bilious green is Norman’s grandmother and voiced by the incomparable Elaine Stritch? Norman himself is an appealing figure, from bristled hair to sneakered toe, partly because he hasn’t been saddled with the familiar Disneyesque pluck and good cheer. He’s also an unreconstructed little weirdo, with pleasurably odd tics and a night light shaped like a monster head and topped with a pink brain. The story, an amusing involving a witch and some Puritans, is principally a vehicle for the movie’s meticulously detailed pictorial beauty, which turns each scene into an occasion for discovery and delight. Far more than Norman’s adventure, which takes him from home to a cemetery and deep into his town’s history, what pulls you in, quickening your pulse and widening your eyes, are the myriad visual enchantments — from the rich, nubby tactility of his clothes to the skull-and-bones adorning his bedroom wallpaper. When Norman pauses while brushing his teeth to make a scary face in the mirror, the foamy toothpaste dripping like zombie drool, you may find yourself tapping into your own inner monster and goofily grinning right back.
What's so enjoyable about the movie is how it doesn't skimp on the scary-movie details. It's all classic-horror stuff -- the outcast having to protect the town and his tormentors, relying on the help of his sister, his sort-of pal Neil, Neil's older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) and bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), along with his parents. But "ParaNorman" goes deeper than that. The resolution involves issues of trust, betrayal, love and forgiveness. Truly, this is one animated film that would work just as well as a live-action movie.
Which is to say it's a nice balance between the funny, the silly, the scary and the moving. The look of the film is great -- it's a beautiful homage to every zombie movie you've ever seen. The filmmakers give Blithe Hollow, with its witch-themed stores, billboards and hot-dog stands, a unique feel. It's always getting dark or dark already there, seems like -- just like in any horror movie worth its salt. "ParaNorman" is worth that and a lot more.
4 stars! The second 3-D stop-motion feature produced by LAIKA Studios, which was also behind Henry Selick’s Coraline, is a visual marvel, from the littlest details, like Norman’s Calvin and Hobbes–esque coif, to rip-roaring set pieces such as our hero’s climactic, which-way-is-up confrontation with the tragic enchantress. Yet the arresting, sometimes-graphic sturm und drang rarely overshadows the story’s pronounced sense of melancholy. Despite being made of sticks and clay, Norman’s pain is all too human: Anyone who’s ever walked to school dreading what lies in wait will recognize the Atlas-sized burden that weighs on his shoulders and makes him immediately suspect of any seeming act of kindness. But sensitive parents shouldn’t fret; this is the kind of fairy tale, equal parts midnight-movie macabre and family-round-the-hearth compassionate, that scars in all the right ways.