Directed by: Chris Butler & Sam Fell Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Casey Affleck, Jodelle Ferland Running Time: 1 hr 29 mins Rating: PG Release Date: August 17, 2012
PLOT: A middle schooler (Smit-McPhee) who can see ghosts must save his town from a destructive curse that involves zombies, ghouls, witches, and bullies.
WHO'S IT FOR? ParaNorman has fantastic humor that will greatly entertain both kids and adults, while packing a meaningful punch that will strike true to anyone. Despite how this film may appear, it's not too childish for adults, and it's not too scary for children. If you're a fan of great animation, see this movie. If you were underwhelmed by Brave and are looking for an animation movie to knock you out, see this movie. If you like great movies, see this movie.
EXPECTATIONS: I had only the poster and the film's title to go off of before sitting down for this movie. Needless to say, my inclinations were not too excited: "More zombies? We get it. More kids fascinated with the dead? Great."
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Norman: In our world, this unique kid who can see ghosts would probably be in a mental institution. But thankfully his story is told in the sweet fantasy of ParaNorman, which allows his unique perspective to be used as a touching reminder to understand those who may not be directly similar to us. Smit-McPhee adds some sympathetic timidity to this character afraid of bullies more than zombies. Score: 8
Tucker Albrizzi as Neil: By just being himself and accepting others, Neil is an incredible charmer. Norman invests you into the dark humor of the movie, but his unlikely friend Neil welcomes audiences to its highly entertaining heart. He's also a very, very funny little creation. Like Smit-McPhee, Albrizzi voices Neil gently, recalling the natural innocence of something like the voice talents of "Peanuts" cartoons. Score: 8
Rest of Cast: Characters that seem like stereotypes are given great color by a giddy list of supporting performances, which are spiced by their surprising casting. This is especially true with Affleck's mindless jock, Kendrick's bratty older sister to Norman, and Mintz-Plasse's bully — who's only tough on the outside. Score: 7
TALKING: With a palette of very distinct voices, ParaNorman brings its smart dialogue to rich life. In terms of leaving an effect on its audience, ParaNorman does so in a very natural way with its dialogue in the third act, in a form that is not preachy. Instead, it's just two kids trying to understand something that has really left an impact on their life. Before that moment, the dialogue makes poignant points (often by means of comedy) about the destructive reactions triggered by fear of those we do not understand. Score: 8
SIGHTS: From start to finish, ParaNorman is a spectacular moment for filmmaking, and not just for stop-motion animation. Especially in terms of character design and cinematography (specifically lighting and framing), this vivid production has a unique precise beauty, bringing models to vibrant life. ParaNorman especially shines with its heavy-duty sequences, involving a very amusing chase scene, or a pivotal scene that leaves two characters sitting in a beautiful, perfectly lit meadow. These intricate visuals are proof that hard work can lead to near genius. Score: 9
SOUNDS: Jon Brion (Punch Drunk Love) provides pretty melodies with indie instrumentation. When the film kicks into its horror groove, the accompaniment goes classic and cheap, with 80s synthesizers galore. "Little Ghost" by the White Stripes plays during the credits of ParaNorman, to complement the rest of the movie's foot-tapping enjoyability. Score: 8
BEST SCENE: I was very affected by the film's quiet climax, when Norman and Aggie (Ferland) are in the meadow. It is an incredible moment.
ENDING: "So, what's happening now?"
REWATCHABILITY: I would certainly see ParaNorman again, and again, and again. It's all that you could want a movie to be.
This movie full of characters who all misunderstand each other (like Norman and his zombies, for example) is certainly easy to misunderstand itself. For starters, pop culture's fascination with zed-ghouls has well stayed past its welcome; its inspired cleverness disintegrating at the rate of Betty White's hipness to teenagers. Even the idea of PG-ing down a zombie story sounds like pandering, or even poor taste considering the morbidity of zombie culture. On top of that, it seems too easy for an animated tale to lose its spark in doom and gloom, which then turns into heavy Tim Burton-esque art direction, which then turns into expression as empty as an Ice Age movie. Thankfully, ParaNorman suffers from none of these setbacks, and it is actually the summer's biggest surprise.
Like the best of zombie stories, ParaNorman stands apart from its mindless lookalikes by effectively expressing a social message that lingers with audience members long after the film's thrills have subsided. This time, ParaNorman brilliantly uses the horror of zombies (born from a witch hunt) to discuss the concept of bullying, in an emotional manner that wonderfully surprises audiences like its witty humor and playful genre homages. In ways that are not preachy, the film shows the harm of intolerance, the cycle of bullying, and the importance of seeing everyone as equal. For all of the recent crusades towards encouraging the acceptance of those different than us, ParaNorman is the beautiful expression that something like that documentary Bully failed to be. It's something that children need a thoughtful discussion about, especially if they walk real school halls in Norman's real-life shoes. And in a society in which scary hate towards those of different sexual orientations, races, creeds, etc. is no shocking issue, it's something that adults need to be reminded of as well.
This script makes wise use of its PG-rating limits to take genre expectations in different and highly entertaining directions. With affecting moments you thought you'd only see in a Pixar movie, ParaNorman is a wonderful story of a boy and his zombies as brought to life with a tender heart.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10