A small town comes under siege by zombies, as misunderstood local boy Norman (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is able to speak with the dead, discovers. In addition to the zombies, he has to take on ghosts, witches and, worst, of all, grown-ups, to save his town from a centuries-old curse. He is aided by his equally bullied friend Neil (Tucker Albrezi), and not so much by his hyper teenage sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and the bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Passe).
Review by Louise Keller:
Bristling with energy, here's a delectable 3D film that's inventive, funny, devilishly ghoulish, loaded with splendid effects and a heartfelt story at its core. In other words, ParaNorman is great entertainment for all ages. Affectionately grounded in the horror genre, the film is a satisfying bite with flavours that include the importance of family, being different and that it's okay to be scared. Of course all those elements easily come into play when it happens that the film's young protagonist Norman, (voiced by Aussie Kodi Smit-McPhee) sees dead people. With the same beautifully detailed animation as Coralie (2009), in which directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell were involved, ParaNorman delivers dreamy and spooky substance that resonates in anyone's reality.
In the opening scene, a juicy zombie movie is playing on television and spiky-haired Norman, with his Eugene Levy eyebrows, is entranced. Grandma (Elaine Stritch, still wonderful at 87), sitting on the couch beside him adds commentary; something that becomes more meaningful when we learn that Grandma is dead.
Butler's smart screenplay unravels slowly, allowing us to see for ourselves that Norman is different from all his friends. School bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) loudly calls him a freak and makes life hell, but Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), the good natured school fatty senses they are both rejects and wants to be friends, enjoying their alone-ness time together. Parents Sandra (Leslie Mann) and Perry (Jeff) are embarrassed by their son's differences and added to the family mix is Neil's self-centred, Barbie-blonde sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), whose shallowness is drawn to the impressive abs of Neil's older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck).
The plot involves Norman's dead uncle Mr Prenderghast (effectively voiced by John Goodman) recruiting his nephew to stop the curse of the Blithe Hollow witch. It is the 300th anniversary of her death and the scene in which the larger-than-life dead uncle makes Norman agree to take it on, is highly memorable. Norman is in the school toilets, with Alvin in the adjacent cubicle. The toilet roll holder shudders, followed by tiles jumping off the wall, the toilet leaking and walls bouncing together as Mr Prenderghast makes his unholy appearance in the toilet bowl.
Michael Jackson's Thriller would not be out of place in the graveyard scene, when seven victims of the witch's curse, complete with green complexions, bad teeth, detachable limbs and a macabre disposition make their arresting appearance. Meanwhile, the witch's disapproval is expressed by a multi-coloured fairy-floss swirl floating in the sky, that morphs into chilling long arms that descend like waterfalls before flowing into a whirlpool of uncertainty.
There are lots of laughs and the detail of both the animation and the character-driven screenplay is extraordinary. I love the school's fat drama teacher (Alex Borstein), who delivers the theatricals with conviction, and the development of the relationships between all the characters. The climactic sequence between Norman and the witch (Jodelle Ferland) is surprisingly moving.
With its adult themes and child-like enthusiasm, the film is a joyous adventure that encompasses fantasy, the after-life and everything in between. Turning full circle, the film cleverly ends where it begins - with a few modifications. It's delightful.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Never assume anything - that's a good mantra to have, even when reviewing movies. Here is a good example, animation with zombies for kids. Nonchalant expectations are turned on their head as Chris Butler's screenplay skates across the edgy ice of adult-family material to deliver plenty of fun, freaks and frights for all. While it is unequivocally a family movie, it packs enough adult punch to make the outing worthwhile.
The animation strikes us first, of course, a snappy, clean and remarkably accented work which is neither too naturalistic nor too cartoonish. Facial expressions are great, enabled by a wonderful voice cast. Christopher Mintz-Passe is the most recognisable and distinctive, and his character has a terrific journey from bad seed to good guy. Anna Kendrick is another standout as the voice of Courtney, the typical teenage sister with her mobile attention span and self centred view of the world. She, too, learns things as the adventure unfolds.
The gifted Casey Affleck voices Mitch, a blond hunk whose pecs appeal to Courtney, whose usefulness is always in doubt during the journey.
But it's the story that grabs us by the arm, about an age old curse on a town that carried out the death sentence on a little girl who it branded a witch. With its light-handed references to the old Salem witch trials in Massachusetts (where the film is set) and its clearly articulated messages, the film is a call for tolerance and balance. For a screenplay aimed at preteens, it is surprisingly articulate about these messages: fear easily ignites bad and nasty decisions, but that doesn't mean people are bad; just wrong. That's it in a nutshell, and there is a great deal of fun and laughter amidst the scares to make this medicine go down smoothly.
Central to the film's premise is that people who see dead people are not to be shunned; in other words, shallow, superficial snapshots of others is likely to be wrong. This dovetails into the other premise that is developed, which is that zombies are (or were) people too. This doesn't mean everyone is the same, of course, and the differences are well celebrated.
ParaNorman is also the first animated family movie in which a gay relationship is admitted; I'll let you discover how, but rest assured, it's a comedic moment.
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PARANORMAN 3D (PG)
VOICES: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill, Alex Borstein, Tempestt Bledsoe, Hannah Noyes
PRODUCER: Arianne Sutner, Travis Knight
DIRECTOR: Sam Fell, Chris Butler
SCRIPT: Chris Butler
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tristan Oliver
EDITOR: Christopher Murrie
MUSIC: John Brion
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nelson Lowry
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 10, 2013