Just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it’s strictly kid stuff. ParaNorman (and it is astonishing that we haven’t seen this title before, since it’s clearly a title looking for a tale to tell) turns out to be a treat for just about anybody. It has all the elements of a good story plus some audacious stop-motion 3D action from the ‘wizards’ at Laika who brought us Coraline.
Plot-wise ParaNorman is a combination of ghost story, zombie uprising, small town behaviour ( bad and better) and young misfit with extraordinary abilities and a good heart whose mission is to save the day and the town from the results of a 300-year-old curse. The film is blessed with deft direction from Sam Fells and Chris Butler that puts a charmingly human touch to the animation, using physical sets and puppets.
Norman is certainly an interesting character; he’s subject to bullying from both his peers and his family because of his weirdness (he’s plenty weird), and that’s not an unusual situation. The fact that he can see ghosts and talk to them in a perfectly offhand manner, and the additional character trait of preferring such oddities as a nightlight in the form of a monster’s head with a pink brain on top are unsubtle clues.
Norman is voiced just right by Kodi Smit-McPhee, his tubby and also misfit best pal Neil by Tucker Albrizzi, and his (dead) grandma who is staying around to ‘keep an eye on him’ by Elaine Stritch.
Great-uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman) convinces Norman that his ability to communicate with the dead is the best weapon against an assault by the undead, raised from their graves by a witch who was put to death by the townspeople long ago and still furious about it.
ParaNorman has been described by critics as ‘the best surprise of the year’ and a feature-length episode of Scooby Doo; it’s both those and more, so go see it and be surprised and delighted – but maybe not with kids who tend to scare easily. There’s humor and charm galore, but there are also some vivid scenes that are a bit much for some youngsters.