ParaNorman (Frank’s Take).
There are not many slick stop-motion animated features to boast about recently until the arrival of freakish and fun-loving monster fable ParaNorman. Highly sophisticated in its ghoulish gumption, ParaNorman is indeed a goose-bump treat for the kiddies as well as their grown-up counterparts that will rejoice in the Gothic-style antics of humor, hokey-minded horror and the artistry of the film’s aforementioned top-notch stop-motion animation.
Filmmakers Sam Fell (“Flushed Away”, “The Tale of Despereaux”) and Chris Butler (“Coraline”) oversees this glossy and glazed film project with the right touches of imagination and impishness. High-spirited in its spookiness, ParaNorman is indeed a Halloween-themed hoot enjoying the summertime blues at the box office.
As a reminiscent ode to The Sixth Sense’s pre-teen protagonist Cole Sear, ParaNorman’s boo-hoo boy Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Road”) is another terror-ridden tyke that has the ability to see dead people and communicate with them as well. Despite Norman’s special talents in his dalliances with spooky specimens, he is not treated very well at his school. Norman’s classmates shun him and make him feel uneasy about his haunting instincts. Nevertheless, Norman goes about his business and will prove quite essential in being the unlikeliest hair-raising hero in potentially saving his town from ominous creepy invaders.
Thankfully, Norman has a loyal chubby sidekick that he can relate to in the equally put-upon pal Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi). Together, the demonized duo prepare for a special assignment that calls for their expertise in confronting the menacing element.
Rumored that the town will be visited by a spiteful witch looking to cause chaos among its vulnerable residents, crazy old coot Mr. Prenderghast (voiced by John Goodman) enlists Norman and Neil in warning the region of the impending doom that lurks ahead. The word is out that a zombie invasion may take place so naturally Norman’s skillful knack for facing down scary cretins is needed in the worst way. What a vote of confidence that Norman’s cantankerous Uncle Prenderghast is bestowing on him to stop the potential mayhem! There is nothing like a good ole nepotism nod in this case, right?
Of course there is a reason why the hysteria is so rampant in Norman’s neck of the woods. For starters, the town of Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts where Norman and his fellow townies reside is known for the 1712 execution of a crafty witch. Hence, Blithe Hollow is reliant on the tourist attraction of witches and other hocus-pocus oriented curiosities. Naturally the historical value of Blithe Hollow stabilizes the local economy. Still, Norman and the townsfolk must prepare for the wrath of the witch looking to avenge her demise on the 300th anniversary of her heralded hanging.
In joining Norman and Neil to stop the vengeance of the returning scorned witch, they are accompanied by Norman’s sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and Neil’s brother Mitch (Casey Affleck). Along for the raucous ride is goofy-minded bully-wannabe Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Will Norman and his rag tag bunch of monster mashers save their beloved town of Blithe Hollow from the witch’s evil payback?
Uncommonly refreshing is how ParaNorman has an intelligent angle to its carefree gloomy edginess. Co-director/writer Chris Butler’s story carries the capable heft of an intriguing storyline bursting with energy and intrigue. Occasionally the plotline strains along the way but for the most part one finds themselves involved in the nerdy Norman’s bid to rise about the ostracized indifference of his peers and find redemption as an enemy of horrifying hooligans.
At times ParaNorman can be somewhat suggestive for family-friendly fare. This involving animated thriller has an underlying acerbic approach that effectively radiates and makes other recent stop-motion cinema features pale in comparison. Witty and sharply wholesome in its entertaining skin, ParaNorman has a zesty zing in its giddy step.
When there is something strange in the neighborhood who are you going to call? Besides the Ghostbusters, one could not go wrong with tapping Norman Babcock on the shoulder for his personalized paranormal services.
ParaNorman (Focus Features)
1 hr. 32 mins.
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Tucker Albrizzi, Jeff Garlin, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plesse, Elaine Stritch
Directed by: Sam Fell and Chris Butler
MPAA Rating: PG
Genre: Kids and Family/Action Adventure/Animation/Horror/Comedy
Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)