DIR: Chris Butler, Sam Fell • WRI: Chris Butler • PRO: Travis Knight, Arianne Sutner • DOP: Tristan Oliver • ED: Christopher Murrie • DES: Nelson Lowry • CAST: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Tucker Albrizzi
Norman Babcock is not like other 11-year-old boys in the town of Blithe Hollow. Walking to school through empty streets, he greets people that others cannot see. Norman sees dead people. This alienates him from his parents and makes him the subject of bullying at school. Get the sense that the premise is not fresh? It isn’t, but the treatment is wonderfully absurd and mordantly humorous.
His crazy uncle, Mr Prenderghast (voiced by John Goodman), warns Norman that only he can prevent the town from looming disaster. Norman’s ability to converse with ghosts means that he must protect Blithe Hollow from a terrible witch’s curse.
Norman, who enjoys horror movies, is a lonely and misunderstood boy. His mother explains that his father, who insists that he must end his morbid nonsense, is afraid for him. Taunted by his sister and bullied at school, he finds solace from Neil, the fat kid, and his grandmother, whose ghost says she’s there to look out for him.
The misunderstood weirdo screams Burtonesque, as does playing on the look and style of 1950s horror movies. While the film’s characters and storyline appear hackneyed, its treatment is remarkable. From the studio Laika, which created Coraline, the animation is excellent. It lacks the texture that makes stop-motion animation from Aardman charming, but the level of detail of a large number of puppets, particularly facial expressions, is impressive.
IFCO originally rated the film 12-A but re-rated it PG on appeal. Young children may find certain scenes frightening, but there are other elements of the film that are surprising in a children’s film: reference to the ‘F-word’ and phrases like ‘limp-wristed’. But Norman is an 11-year-old who watches horror films. His ring-tone is the theme from Halloween. Maybe it’s naive to think that pre-teens don’t know better. At one point, Alvin, a bully and Norman’s original nemesis, screams more in fear of angry grown-ups than of the threatening zombies. His fear probably stems from parents finding out what children really get up to.
A cynical sense of humour pervades the film, making it very enjoyable but making attempts at sincerity seem misplaced. The climax is wordy and talky rather than exciting or funny. Luckily, characters such as Mitch, Neil’s brother, bring the film back to its mordant best. After an untypical emotional outburst, he remarks sarcastically, ‘Well, that was dramatic.’ Audiences may respond similarly to the final sequences, but ParaNorman still offers much to enjoy.
PG (see IFCO for details)
ParaNorman is released 14th September 2012