Ghost world – ParaNorman review

ParaNorman – Featuring the voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell. By Jess Lomas.

ParaNorman played the Melbourne International Film Festival. It arrives in Australian cinemas January 10, 2013.

The latest kid to see dead people isn’t Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, but Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in ParaNorman, the newest offering from the animation company LAIKA (also responsible for the equally creepy Coraline).

Set in the New England town of Blithe Hollow, Norman lives with his father Perry (Jeff Garlin), mother Sandra (Leslie Mann), sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and his grandmother (Elaine Stritch), although the latter just so happens to be a ghost. He’s the only one who can see and talk to her, along with a host of other ghouls all over town, earning the label of local freak and making him a prime bullying target for the dopey Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Norman soon finds a friend in the chubby Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), who teaches him to ignore the bullies and embrace his quirks.

When Norman’s estranged uncle Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman) seeks him out, he charges him with a mission: to read a story at the grave of the town’s most famous witch, Aggie (Jodelle Ferland), on the 300th anniversary of her execution. If he fails, a curse will be unleashed on the unsuspecting town, and zombies will roam the streets. It’s up to Norman, along with his sister, the bully Alvin, Neil, and his beefy brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) to defend the town against a centuries old curse and a disgruntled witch.

Written by Chris Butler, who also co-directed with Sam Fell (Flushed Away), the picture cleverly mixes horror and humour to create an edgy yet family friendly tale. The film does fall into the trap of openly preaching morals by the end, somewhat distracting from an otherwise fresh approach to children’s animation. ParaNorman is at times reminiscent of the cult coming of age adventure The Goonies, pairing unlikely companions on an often-dangerous journey.

The stop motion animation used to make ParaNorman is impressive and cutting edge. LAIKA has ushered stop motion into a new era, whereby characters are digitally designed and printed using new 3-D technology, and then animated traditionally by hand.  Despite the stunning animation, the use of 3-D is disappointing, perhaps best described as unnecessary, with wasted opportunities to entertain its young audience with flying zombie limbs.

An overall charming, funny, and dark movie, ParaNorman explores the lonely world of a friendless boy, whose perceived shortcomings see him save the day and become the hero.

3.5/5

ParaNorman played the Melbourne International Film Festival. It arrives in Australian cinemas January 10, 2013.

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