“ParaNorman” is a moody but cheerful stop-motion animation film nicely packed with the familiar elements from horror movies. As a horror/comedy involving ghosts and zombies, it has good spooky moments coupled with its dark but lightweight humor, and I enjoyed its fine, painstaking details more during my second viewing of this nice animation film. It gets a little too grotesque or intense for the young audiences at times, but, considering that kids are not easily scared nowadays, they will enjoy it as much as they have a fun with scary Halloween stories.
After the amusing opening scene which is a tongue-in-cheek homage to B-horror movies, we are introduced to Norman Babcock(voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), who initially seems to be an ordinary kid who are just very enthusiastic about horror movies. He especially likes zombie flicks, and, observing his room decorated with many zombie movie posters and horror action figures, I recollected my innocently morbid curiosity with Friday the 13th movies during my childhood years; you have no idea about how much I was disappointed to discover that these cheap slasher films were far shabbier than my imagination stimulated by their posters and still cuts printed on their VHS cases.
We soon come to know that Norman is no ordinary boy due to his special talent; he can see the dead and he can also communicate with them. Because only he can see dead people(and dead animals), he has been labeled as a weird kid around his neighborhood, and that aspect naturally makes him an easy target of ridicules at his school. While he is accustomed to seeing dead people here and there in his sight, his school days are always depressing and miserable to him thanks to a big bully Alvin(voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and other mean kids.
At least, the things start getting a little better for Norman recently. While he goes through another hard day at the school, Norman comes across Neil(voiced by Tucker Albrizzi), a chubby kid who also has been alienated because of his plump appearance and dim behaviors. He is not that bright, but Neil sincerely believes what Norman sees unlike others, so the friendship is easily formed between them as Neil is having a happy time with his dead puppy thanks to Norman.
Meanwhile, Norman learns that he is not the only one who can see dead people in his town Blithe Hallow(Its promotional slogan: “A Nice Place to Hang”) when his eccentric reclusive uncle Mr. Prenderghast(voiced by John Goodman) suddenly appears in front of him. Mr. Prederghast also can see ghosts just like Norman, and, before his spirit goes into the other side, he tells his nephew about a secret family duty associated with the town legend. Norman comes to realize that the safety of his town now depends on him – but he or others have no clue about what to do with the approaching crisis.
Although it is less dark and less disturbing than “Coraline”(2009), another dark stop-motion animation film previously produced by its production company Laika, the movie has its share of dark moments. There is a spooky scene when the damned rise from their graves, and they certainly do not look pretty in their grey and withered appearances. It is later revealed that there was a sad, grim tragedy behind the town legend, and the deep hostile resentment caused by it dominates over the dark, malicious forest during the climax part while Norman tries to bring the peace to not only his town but also someone he identified with as a fellow loner.
But the movie is also a fun comedy, and there are various comic moments which frequently lighten up its moody tone. The living dead in question are not as menacing as they initially look, so we get an amusing moment which can be described as ‘culture shock’ when they come into the town which has changed a lot since their time. There are several humorous references on horror films throughout the movie which can be recognized by the adult audiences, and, as a guy who fondly remember Friday 13th movies despite their lousiness, I was particularly amused by the cameo appearance of that infamous object from the series.
Directed by Chris Butler(he also wrote the story) and Sam Fell, “ParaNorman” is a well-made stop-motion animation film. Thanks to technological advancement, it even has an exciting action sequence in the middle of the story, and everything looks very smooth and natural on the surface along with necessary GCI effects while retaining that distinctive feeling of stop-motion animation. It actually took lots of efforts and time for the directors and their crews to complete this film using their big miniature sets and those delicate puppets, and you will be marveled at how one of their puppets was meticulously constructed step by step while watching a short clip shown after the end credits.
I did not like the movie much during my first watching due to its uneven narrative progress during its first half. However, it looked better during my second viewing while I focused more on its style and atmosphere, and I changed my initial opinion on the movie a bit after the second viewing. The story, which gives young audiences a nice lesson about the tolerance and understanding, is generic to say the least, but I cared about the story while enjoying its visual, and I appreciated a little nice comic touch with Neil’s equally dim brother Mitch(voiced by Casey Affleck), who is more affectionate to his vehicle than Norman’s cheerleader sister Courtney(voiced by Anna Kendrick). Some will say it is too much for young audiences to understand, but isn’t it wonderful to see a PG-rated animation reflecting a certain social change through its small comic gesture?