A near perfect and original blend of comedy, heartfelt emotion, and horror, there’s almost nothing to dislike about the groundbreaking and extremely entertaining stop motion animated ParaNorman, the latest film from the studio that brought the world Coraline. While it might not be entirely appropriate for extremely young children, the film harkens back to the harder edged family fare of the 1980s while adding a decidedly more modern look at being tolerant of those around us that are different.
11 year old Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) lives his life in constant torment from his classmates and creeped out family because he can see ghosts and talk to the dead. Because of his abilities, he’s given a major task by a crazy vagrant (John Goodman) to keep the ghost of a powerful witch from raising the dead and destroying the town. When things go wrong,Norman has to band together with his uncaring sister (Anna Kendrick), the school bully (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), his dorky best friend and his friend’s jock brother (Casey Affleck).
Horror fans will get a kick out of homages to John Carpenter and classic zombie films and kids will appreciate that the main characters look and act like real kids, but everyone will be able to appreciate just how funny and perceptive the film’s script is overall. There’s hardly a single joke that doesn’t elicit huge belly laughs, and at the heart of the film is a heartfelt message of never judging a book by its cover. It also manages a twist that ties into the film’s message of tolerance that’s probably never been attempted in a film aimed at a younger crowd. It’s a big risk that pays off wonderfully.
In addition to a stellar voice cast that gives their all, the animation here is simultaneously top notch and delightfully old school. The imperfections in the stop motion animation give actual character to what’s on screen and the production design is incredibly detailed with boatloads of references and sight gags to be found on multiple viewings, and given how quotable the film is, there’s a lot to be seen and appreciated.
Families that have been starved for a film everyone can enjoy together need not look any further. ParaNorman takes the lead for best animated film of the year thus far with (severed) hands down. It’s truly something special.
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck
Directed by: Sam Fell, Chris Butler
Top image: A scene from ParaNorman. Courtesy Alliance Films.