directed by Chris Butler, Sam Fell
(Focus, 2012)

ParaNorman is the sophomore effort of Laika Entertainment, the producer of computer-generated, stop-motion and cell-animation films. The creators of Coraline have staked out much the same paranormal territory with a zombie-oriented flick that couldn't have been timed better. It's yet another hand-crafted, lovingly created marvel of a movie that, while not as dark as Coraline, isn't afraid to get a little edgy.

The title character is a young boy, Norman, who sees dead people a la Hailey Joel Osmet. Since he is teased mercilessly at school, the ghosts are his only friends. This is greatly helped by the fact that he lives in Blithe Hollow, a shabby, run-down little inkhole of a town that is famous for executing witches during the witch trials.

Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), or Ab-Norman to the kids who bully him, continues to enjoy regular conversations with his grandmother, who hangs around out of concern for him. His relationship with his parents is one based on suspicion and fear, which sets the tone for the movie's theme: that people sometimes hurt others because they are afraid of them.

The message is driven home time and again, from the pariah status of Norman in his own home and town, to the rising of the dead due to a curse placed on the town by a young witch who had been unfairly hung. Apparently, Norman, being a descendent of the dead witch, is the only one who can stop the town from being overrun, Ghostbusters-style, by the living dead. Somehow he's got to pull it off in the dead of night, on Halloween, while being chased by the townspeople with torches and pitchforks for being a ghost whisperer.

It's a fairly simplistic message. And the way in which the movie sticks to it like flypaper can make the narrative seem a bit thin at times. But it is touching on some fairly dense themes such as bullying, intolerance and the real meaning of forgiveness. It's also creepy, funny and delightfully weird with its own very unique sense of humor that really works. By employing the tropes of the classic films it draws on in very clever, very layered ways, ParaNorman is actually spot on with its statements about being persecuted for being different while managing to avoid becoming too moribund or saccharine.

There's also humor to spare, most of it rather dry and ironic in a way that will absolutely appeal to horror movie buffs. The visual effects are beyond stunning; it's a real feast for the eyes. This is truly a creation the makers can be proud of.

review by
Mary Harvey

15 September 2012

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