Movie Review: ParaNorman

A Scene from ParaNorman
Grandma Babcock (voiced by Elaine Stritch), Sandra Babcock (voiced by Leslie Mann), Perry Babcock (voiced by Jeff Garlin), Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Courtney (voiced by Anna Kendrick) in a scene from 'ParaNorman'. Photo © LAIKA, Inc.

Reviewed by Kevin Finnerty

“Do you see ghosts everywhere, all the time?,” asks Neil (Tucker Albrizzi). “Uhh…yeah,” replies Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a bright and misunderstood boy who sees and talks to the dead – the only ones, other than Neil, who like Norman in the 3D stop-motion animated film, ParaNorman.

Norman is just a little obsessed with horror movies because of his strange gift, and no one in town – not even his own family – understand him. His father thinks he’s weird, his sister doesn’t like him, and his classmates always pick on him. But when Norman is visited by the ghost of the town’s local crazy person, Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman), and is told that the spirit of the town’s centuries-old witch is going to wake up and raise the dead, it falls to Norman to try to stop it.

The spirit tells Norman he must go to where the witch is buried and read from the book left in Prendeghast’s home. After finally getting the book, Norman races to the ancient abandoned graveyard, finds where there are tombstones from centuries ago, and begins to read. Unfortunately, Norman is interrupted by Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the school bully who loves to torment Norman and followed him to the graveyard. This is something Alvin quickly regrets when he sees a horrible, evil-looking large face in the sky laughing and watches, with Norman, zombies rising from their graves. Now it’s going to be up to Norman, his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), his best friend Neil, Neil’s big brother Mitch (Casey Affleck), and Alvin to find a way to stop the witch’s plan of destroying the town by putting the zombies back in their graves for good.

Hilarious and spooky, ParaNorman is a fun-filled, zombie-infested adventure that has the perfect mix of laughs and fright. The film has an extremely talented cast of actors lending their voices to the characters. Anna Kendrick is flawless as the voice of Courtney, the nagging, bossy big sister of Norman who would rather be home on the phone talking to her friends or flirting with Mitch than looking out for her little brother and, of course, running from zombies. Casey Affleck has some of the best lines in the film as the voice of Mitch, Neil’s not-too-bright but very loyal big brother who never really catches on to what’s happening and what they have to do to save the town. He makes Shaggy from the Scooby-Doo cartoons look like a genius.

The film’s writing is extremely strong with laugh-out-loud lines and a few life lessons and a deeper emotional underlying story than one would expect from an animated movie about ghosts, zombies and a witch. The movie is also a visual delight with bright, beautiful, colorful animation bringing the characters and action to life. It’s the best looking animated film this year by far.

One word of warning, some of the scenes near the end of the film with the zombies, the witch and her past may be too dark and disturbing for children under eight years old.

Clever, creepy and funny, ParaNorman offers a unique and creative take on the zombie, witch’s curse/ghost story and makes it a frightfully fun time. Make sure to take the family to catch it up on the big screen for a ghoulishly good time.

GRADE: B

ParaNorman hits theaters on August 17, 2012 and is rated PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language.