While this scenario may seem like it’s for a typical zombie slasher flick, it is actually the opening sequence to “ParaNorman,” a charming 3-D stop-motion animation film directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell.
The movie follows Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), an 11-year-old boy who can see and talk to dead people. While his town, Blithe Hollow, is celebrating its anniversary, Norman learns the founder has left the citizens a curse: The seven people responsible for a witch’s (Jodelle Ferland) death 300 years ago are resurrected annually as zombies. Because Norman is the only one who can communicate with the dead, it is his job to save the town.
Butler, who wrote as well as directed “ParaNorman,” pays homage to other films of its genre. In addition to borrowing the premise from M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense,” a film about a young boy who can see the dead, Butler also pays tribute to horror classics. One scene where a group of teens drives over a body on the side of the road resembles the plot line of “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Another scene features the “Halloween” theme as Norman’s ringtone, and Norman’s friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) is dressed in “Friday the 13th’s” Jason Voorhees’ signature hockey mask. These references create an environment people of all ages can appreciate because of the vast range of time these horror films were released in.
Despite the ghostly subject matter, the scariest parts of the film are grounded in real issues, such as being bullied and labeled as an outsider, listening to parents arguing or being ignored like Norman has been. The film excels at exploring childhood insecurities and imparting didactic lessons without being too preachy, enhancing the film’s variety as more than just a silly comedy.
The stop-motion animation of “ParaNorman” succeeds at flowing seamlessly as a piece of art. In one visually thrilling scene, Norman appears mentally disturbed while talking to imaginary friends. The scene beautifully transitions into the subjective view through Norman’s eyes, revealing the ghosts surrounded by their vaporous green auras.
Though “ParaNorman” engages audiences, some of the humor seems a bit excessive, especially when the jokes are built for cheap laughs. For example, in one scene, when Norman’s sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) says the situation “is getting completely out of hand,” a zombie’s hand appears right in front of her, which quickly becomes unfunny .
There is a source of constant hilarity though. Elaine Stritch, who voices Norman’s sassy dead grandma, steals the show with her lines. In one scene, while she is watching a zombie swallow brains on TV while knitting, she responds, “That’s not very nice. He’s going to ruin his appetite.”
Not only does “ParaNorman” provide a young spin to the horror genre — bringing both reality and magic to life — but it also proves that Butler has just the right amount of brains to do so.
Overall rating: 3 stars
This animated film, which follows a young boy who can see the dead, offers a comical spin to the horror genre.