ParaNorman (Focus Features)
Rated PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language.
Starring (voices of) Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill, Tempestt Bledsoe, Alex Borstein, John Goodman.
Written by Chris Butler.
Directed by Chris Butler, Sam Fell.
It's been an uneventful year for animated features, with the possible exception of The Lorax, Madascar 3 and Pixar's Brave, all of which made a healthy sum at the box office, but failed to grab glowing reviews (although I really liked Brave more than others). There are a few on the horizon (Wreck It Ralph, due in November, looks promising), but when Oscar nominations are handed out sometime after the New Year, you can probably count on ParaNorman to make the list.
Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a child with the gift/curse of being able to speak to ghosts, including his dead grandma (Elaine Stritch). His family is embarrassed by his ability, while everybody else gives him a hard time about it. The lone exception is Neal (Tucker Albrizzi), the happy-go-lucky chubby kid in school who befriends Norman, despite his creepy talent.
Norman lives in the town of Blythe, a place famous for a 1712 witch trial in which a particular woman was executed for witchcraft, and then placed a curse on the townspeople. The curse calls for the dead to rise every 100 years unless someone reads a nice fairy tale at the witch's grave site.
As Norman deals with his own problems, his estranged uncle (John Goodman) dies and his ghost entrusts the boy with the task of dealing with the curse. As the 300-year anniversary approaches, Norman reluctantly takes on his uncle's task, as a the town bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Neal, his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and Neal's hunky brother Mitch tag along.
The dead eventually rise and descend upon the town, causing all kinds of havoc until Norman can find out what really happened at the witch trial and set things right.
ParaNorman is a quirky, funny and unique film with an excellent message about fear, redemption and forgiveness. The stop-motion animation comes from the talented team at Laika Studios, the same team that produced Coraline (2009). Laika, along with Tim Burton (Nightmare before Christmas) and Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox) have proved that stop-motion still has a place among animated features, in a world where big budget computer-animated films seem to dominate.
ParaNorman is a rare August treat that should have been released in October, closer to Halloween. Despite its release date, ParaNorman can be enjoyed any time of the year.
One caution to parents: Some of the death, zombies and other mature material in ParaNorman might be a little too much for little kids to handle, along with a bulk of the the humor intended for adults.