Directed By: Chris Butler & Sam Fell
Voice Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, John Goodman, Casey Affleck, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Tucker Albrizzi
As a sucker for animated movies and horror films, hopes were high for “ParaNorman.” While the experience was primarily satisfying, those with a pension for horror suspecting this might bear a creep factor similar to “Coraline” beware; “ParaNorman” does boast downright incredible visuals, an engaging plot, charming characters and more, but it’s also quite juvenile.
Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) isn’t the most popular kid at school. It isn’t because he’s a nerd, isn’t a jock or even because he’s in a lame school club; Norman’s an outcast because he talks to the dead. While many folks pass away and make a B-line to the other side, those with unfinished business, like Norman’s grandmother (Elaine Stritch), hang around.
When Norman starts to have even stranger otherworldly visions, he comes to learn that it’s because the anniversary of the witch’s death is on the horizon. His uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman) tells him that if someone doesn’t go to her grave and read from a particular book, the curse will come true. With the help of his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), buddy Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), Neil’s big brother Mitch (Casey Affleck), and Norman’s schoolyard nemesis Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Norman sets out to send a group of zombies back to their graves and put an end to this 300 year old curse for good.
The plot is fairly simple, as are the characters. Norman and his cohorts all fit into personality molds we’ve seen time and time again. Norman and Neil are strikingly similar to Greg and Rowley of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movies, Courtney is the toenail-painting cheerleader, Mitch is the dumb jock and Alvin squeezes in as your typical bully. Had directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler gone the “Coraline” route with “ParaNorman,” delivering something that’s youthful yet deep and chilling, the cookie-cutter cast could have been detrimental, however, as a far more commercial film than “Coraline,” the familiar personas work rather well.
The characters are further enhanced by pitch perfect voice casting. Norman is humanized to a notable degree by Smit-McPhee’s innocence while Kendrick absolutely runs away with the queen bee role. Affleck is entirely unrecognizable as Mitch and while Mintz-Plasse’s voice is the most identifiable of the bunch, it actually brings more humor to the role of Alvin. However, Albrizzi’s Neil is certainly the scene-stealer of the bunch. Neil is just so peppy and innocently naïve that he’s impossible not to like. The character also boasts some of the film’s most memorable dialogue, the scene with him wearing the hockey mask works incredibly well even after having seen it time and time again in the trailer. Then again, that’s not to say that some of the other characters don’t deliver some notably amusing lines. In fact, “ParaNorman” is a particularly quotable movie, serving up dialogue like “Swear? You mean like the F-word,” when Norman’s asked to promise he’ll vanquish the curse.
In addition to wanting to quote most of the movie, you’re going to want most of Norman’s belongings. Stop-motion animation in general is a boundlessly astonishing accomplishment, but what makes “ParaNorman” stand out is the incredible attention to details. Norman’s alarm clock, his fuzzy monster slippers, his zombie light, I want it all! The details aren’t just there for the sake of filling the frame; they all have a purpose, adding layers to characters or further solidifying an environment. And the same is true of the directors’ shot selection. They aren’t merely covering action to show us what’s happening; their imagery goes one step further and puts us in our protagonist’s shoes. There’s a particularly memorable shot of little Norman being lectured by his parents and all we can see of his parents are his father’s bulging stomach and his mother’s, excuse the slang, foopah.
While the world of “ParaNorman” is highly inventive and endlessly fascinating, the simplicity of the story doesn’t really do it justice. “ParaNorman” makes for a perfect dose of kid-appropriate entertainment, but as there’s nothing particularly deep about the tale, it doesn’t offer very much to take with you besides memories of pretty visuals and amusing lines of dialogue. No, there’s nothing wrong with that and “ParaNorman” is still highly enjoyable, but it is a shame because it could have been much more.
Voice Acting: A-