Directors: Chris Butler and Sam Fell
Writer: Chris Butler
Starring (voices of): Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Length: 92 min.
Just as its title character isn’t your average child, ParaNorman is not your average children’s animation film. Written by Chris Butler and lovingly brought to life by the boffins at Laika (responsible for Henry Selick’s 2009 hit Coraline), the film offers entertainment with very real scares and a big, beating heart.
Like many child protagonists before him, Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) has a special, unacknowledged gift: he can see and communicate with ghosts, a trait his family don’t seem to believe and certainly don’t value. For Norman, however, it’s perfectly normal. In a poignant introduction to his regular life, we watch him walk to school talking in a sweetly conversational manner to the ghosts only he can see. With the aid of Jon Brion’s transporting score swelling around him, we feel for this kid.
Norman’s life is, on the whole, a little drab. He gets out of bed, talks to his dead grandma in the living room, heads to school, is bullied, goes home, and suffers in silence while his white-bread family attempt to get on with their ‘normal’ lives.
Poor unfortunate Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), who is a little on the hefty side and teased mercilessly for it, tries to tell Norman not to worry about the other kids at school, desperately wanting to make a friend. “I’ve told you Neil,” says Norman, “I’m better off on my own.” “Me too” says Neil, and, unwilling to take the hint, “Let’s be alone together.”
An alliance of sorts is formed, and just in the nick of time. Norman starts hallucinating about the legend of Blithe Hollow, where a witch was killed over 200 years ago by some uptight council men. Then his creepy uncle, Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman), takes to following him around muttering about the witch’s curse – apparently something Norman is now responsible for stopping, seeing as though wheezy old Prenderghast soon carks it. His uncle’s ghost relays the quest in a very unusual manner and poor Norman thinks he’s losing his mind, but maybe he also believes the man no-one else did; despite physical disparity, he and his uncle seem to possess the same gift.
ParaNorman launches into adventure film territory with bold enthusiasm, plentiful laughs, and a wild assortment of characters. Zombies, comical cops, best friends, the American equivalent of a panel van, and brothers and sisters are all present; Casey Affleck adds his hilarious two cents as Neil’s buff older sibling, while Anna Kendrick voices Norman’s vapid, but eventually loyal sister.
As it hurtles towards a surprisingly moving finale, ParaNorman also manages to provide quite sophisticated social commentary, particularly during a scene involving a lynch mob. If the film has anything to say about modern society, politics, and rumours, it’s this: enemies aren’t always who you expect them to be, and neither are victims.
Featuring a wildly talented voice cast, stunning, spooky visuals, and a haunting main-title theme that is bittersweet to the very end, ParaNorman embraces weirdness, imagination, heart, and humour in equal measures.