From Laika, the studio who brought us the slightly overrated but nevertheless pleasingly unusual Coraline, comes ParaNorman, the year’s most creative big Hollywood animation, brought to life with amazing voice-work, a nicely pulled off plot and themes that resonate.
With a plot that sits somewhere between Dawn of the Dead and The Nightmare Before Christmas, ParaNorman follows the titular Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) a somewhat lonely young boy who gets bullied at school and hassled by his parents for being different.. the difference in his case being that he can see and talked to the dead. When an ancient witche’s curse raises the dead and threatens to destroy his town it’s up to Norman, with the help of a few reluctant friends, to save it.
With so many franchise animation sequels just shoved out of the Hollywood machine these days to capitalize on the success of previous installments (I’m looking at you Ice Age and Madagascar…) it’s so relieving to see that films like ParaNorman are still being made. Delivered in that most unique of animation style, stop-motion (think Fantastic Mr. Fox and the aforementioned Coraline), this is a film that works on many different levels, not just as pure fun but also a smart, knowing piece of animation with more in-jokes and references than you could shake a zombie’s arm at.
That’s not to say the film is ruled by that knowingness, far from it, as it also boasts beautiful visuals – including a colourful finale which is just stunning to look at – a terrific score by the brilliant Jon Brion (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and a host of charming oddball characters voiced by a pitch-perfect cast that includes McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jeff Garlin and John Goodman.
Any flaws to be found in ParaNorman would probably be in its plot which does occasionally hit some slow patches and it maybe relies a bit much on more familiar slapstick gags every so often but even then it still manages to engage with its meticulously crafted visual world. It’s a textbook example of how elements can work together to compliment each other and provide a crucial backbone when certain ones lag behind.
It isn’t perfect but nonetheless this delightfully spooky stop-motion tale is one of the best animated movies of the year. It ticks pretty much all the boxes a film of its type should; it’s clever, well voice acted, a little bit scary (but not overly so for the younger audience) and, perhaps most importantly of all, genuinely funny. A delight of animation for the odd kid in all of us.