ParaNorman: Wicked, Clever PG Fun For Adults and Younger Set

by Sandra Olmsted

Zombies and ghosts and witches!  Oh my!  Co-directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler, who also wrote the script, deftly interweave humor, death, and elusions to and twists on classic horror genres in their delightful 3D, stop-motion, animated film, ParaNorman.

ParaNorman will tickle the funny bones of adults with its sly humor and its spin on Creature-Feature and Chiller-Thriller conventions, just as other horror satires, such as Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, have.  ParaNorman, the latest film from Laika Studios, will enthrall the younger audience with its amusing take on pop culture and the anti-bullying theme, which does forget that elders can be the worst bullies, a fact which children understand all too well.

In tourist trap Blithe Hollow, all things witchy are celebrated, especially the upcoming 300th anniversary of the burning of the local witch.  Beneath the signs for “Witchy Wieners” and the like, walks Norman (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee), a twelve-year-old outcast, who has befriended all the local ghosts.

At home, Norman is ostracized by ditzy teenage sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), a cheerleader who is totally annoyed by the mere presence of a freaky little brother, and by his father (Jeff Garlin), who seems both afraid of and afraid for his son.  Only Mom (Leslie Mann), who makes excuses for Norman’s behavior, and Grandma (Elaine Stritch), who has a special rapport with Norman, accept the boy as he is.  At school, Norman suffers at the whim of Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a bully who hates Norman for his worse-than-geek status. Despite Norman’s desire to be alone, although he seldom really is, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), an overweight kid who doesn’t care how much he’s teased, befriends Norman.

Warned by his parents to stay away from his Uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman), Norman, with Neil in tow, is confronted by Prenderghast one day after school, and Norman learns that he has inherited the legacy of preventing the witch’s curse from coming to fruition.  The curse will rise the town’s founders from their graves as zombies.

When Prenderghast suddenly dies on the eve of the 300th anniversary of the witch’s curse and death, Norman must decode his uncle’s cryptic instructions and save the town.  The fun of multiple plot twists begins with the unlikely cohorts of Norman, Neil, Alvin, Courtney, and Neil’s older brother, Mitch (Casey Affleck), a high school jock, engaging in a frightening and funny car chase involving Sheriff Hooper (Tempestt Bledsoe),

Puritan zombies, and Mitch’s Scooby-Doo-esque van and proceeds through a pitchfork-waving mob, which first attacks the zombies and then goes after Norman and his cohorts.  All the while, Norman races against sunset to prevent the witch (Jodelle Ferland) from exacting her revenge.  Will Norman figure it out?  Who will win — the mindless mob or the “brain-eating” zombies?  Can the witch finally be laid to rest?  Forever?  Or will Norman be trapped by the legacy?

Even though the story relies more on archetypes than character arcs, Allison Jones’ exceptional casting, generally against type, allows for powerful acting and delightful characters.  Kendrick most often plays the epitome of intelligent women not the all-too-blonde girl, while Mintz-Plasse generally plays the geek not the bully.   Jodelle Ferland, who has a long horror genre resume, does a fine turn as Aggie, whose description would be too much of a spoiler.  John Goodman is at his best as the eccentric uncle, and Stritch has fun with small but crucial role of Grandma.

Fell, who directed The Tale of Despereaux and Aardman’s Flushed Away, and first time director Butler, who worked with Tim Burton and who wrote stellar ParaNorman screenplay, combine macabre, gothic, and humorous elements into a film that will nimbly shift the audience’s sympathies with surprising plot twists.  Fell and Butler also continue the great legacy of Focus Feature’s parent company, Universal Studios, with the sympathetic outsider/monster Norman, whose heroism and stoicism might prevail against a mob with pitch forks and maybe even zombies!

ParaNorman is good fun for most audiences.  Running 93 fun-filled minutes, ParaNorman is rated PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language.

Keep you eyes peeled for sight gags, little humorous bits of business, and jokes as part of the set and background!


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