The latest offering from the studio that brought us Coraline is another stop-motion animated project that not only parodies the horror genre, it re-enforces its power to an inexperienced generation. This is a kids' movie that doesn't talk down to its young audience, but provides scares and thrills we are used to seeing in standard horror movies for a younger age group – something that could be considered very tricky to pull off. Well, Laika studios has succeeded and created something special in the process.
Norman is an unpopular little boy with a love for horror films and an unusual talent: he is able to speak with the dead. As expected, no-one believes his claim to be genuine so he is seen as an outcast by his family and community. He has no friends and is often bullied at school. Soon Norman becomes friends with Neil, a fellow bullying victim and they become good buddies. However, Norman is soon confronted by his crazy uncle who informs him that Norman must perform a ritual to protect the town and ensure that a long dead witch doesn't return from the grave to cast a curse over the neighbourhood. Norman is then thrust upon a quest to save his town along with an unlikely band of allies, proving his worth to his disbelieving family.
ParaNorman is first and foremost full of humour for all ages, from the simplicity of a Halloween ringtone to Norman making zombie faces in the bathroom mirror. The script is littered with witty jokes combined with all the themes incumbent in a film for youngsters about acceptance and bullying. Themes that resonate throughout the film and become an integral message to take away with you. Not only that but there are many touching moments such as Norman dealing with the loss of his grandmother, a mature subject dealt expertly by the directors. As the adventure begins in the second half it becomes a thrilling race that never lets up and builds to an emotional and satisfying climax. It's a little odd that Norman's gift of communicating with the dead is left hanging after the first act and rarely revisited. Particularly when it may have been of use to our hero at later points in the film but it's a minor gripe in an otherwise stellar script.
On the visual side of things the animation style is attention grabbing, with this world containing a crooked quality in all aspects. From a misshapen car to a crooked nose. Symmetry has been avoided at all costs with this design and it creates an intriguing and off kilter style, which when combined with some CGI trickery creates some breathtaking visuals that go beyond the boundaries of animations limits.
Norman is made to be a very relatable, young hero that is thrown into numerous extraordinary situations but he remains decent and honest and is a well thought out character. Kodi Smit-Mcphee manages to inject some innovation into what could have been a standard, stock character. John Goodman provides plenty of fun as the crazy old uncle and even Christopher Mintz-Plasse gets in on the act. This time playing an out of character role as a bully rather than a bully's victim, surprisingly he has the perfect voice to play both. The rest of the cast are likeable, however small their roles. Sure they may be your typical horror stereotypes such as the jock and the doubting parents but this is a love letter to the horror genre and certain constants are kept by the filmmakers.
In a world of Ice Age and Shrek sequels this is a bold, smart, original movie that provides something the youngsters have rarely seen. An absorbing and at times scary movie with an excellent story to tell, it had me gripped from start to finish. It's rapidly shot up to sit alongside some of my favourite animated films of all time and is one of the high points of the year for the genre . However this is not an experience that all kids can handle, the scarier moments are not accommodating for very young cinema-goers but those that connect with it will have a fantastic time.
EXTRAS ★★★½ An audio commentary with writer-director Butler and co-director Fell; three Preliminary Animatic Sequences, with optional commentary from Butler and Fell; a series of nine making-of featurettes under the umbrella heading of Peering Through the Veil: Behind the Scenes of ParaNorman (40:49); seven other featurettes – You Don't Become a Hero By Being Normal, A Norman Childhood, Playing as a Profession, Making Norman, This Little Light, Have You Ever Seen a Ghost?, and The Zombies of ParaNorman (14:53).