Monday, August 20, 2012


Directors: Chris Butler, Sam Fell

Writer: Chris Butler

Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse


When a centuries-old curse threatens the town, it’s the odd boy who speaks to the dead who’s got to save them. ParaNorman offers a late-fall cool breeze in the midst of August films, which are usually not the big summer blockbusters.

Tolerance is a strong theme within children’s films of late. ParaNorman manages to teach this lesson without being preachy. That lesson is not just to understand the different, but that bullies need understanding as well. As Neil says to Norman: “if you were bigger and stupider, you might be a bully, too.”

The script is original and wildly witty with hilarious jabs at mainstream horror, older sibs, and adults who don’t listen. In many ways, ParaNorman treats adolescence as its own horror show fraught with bullies, off-the-wall teachers, parents who don’t listen, and a community that doesn’t often acknowledge their contributions.

Characterization of the outcast kids is well-done. Neal may be a bit too much like the fat kid in Monster House, but his role is all heart. I saw myself up on the screen when Norman called the smart girl with thick glasses and a unibrow for the answer to an important question. (“If you were paying attention in fifth grade, you would know that…”) The child actors who voiced Norman and his friends were spot on with inflections, lending authenticity to the on-screen action.

The stop-motion is sharp and crisp. The Art Department didn’t just capture the menace, they nailed the emotional moments in subtle gestures that leave the audience in awe. This is nothing like the anvil-dropping antics from my childhood. Of the major motion picture cartoons, ParaNorman’s got to be the new gold standard. I will not be surprised if it wins Best Animation at the Academy Awards next year.

While both directors have very short credit lists, the film was beautifully executed. Sam Fell worked as a director on The Tale of Despereaux and Flushed Away ParaNorman is Butler’s first film as Director-Writer, but he’s got Art Department cred having worked on Coraline, Corpse Bride, and Tarzan II.

ParaNorman is one of those rare films that I’d be content to sit through a second showing right after I’ve seen it. I probably will catch another matinee before it leaves theaters and I’ll definitely be purchasing the Blu-Ray as soon as it’s available. I saw ParaNorman in 2D, but this is one film whose effects should be worth the extra charge and the glasses for 3D.

Horror’s actually good for kids. From the Brothers Grimm to now, writers have understood this, but sometimes parents don’t. Dan Horner, the director of Monster House wrote this to a little girl who’d been frightened by his film: Because even a scary story, if it's a good scary story, takes us into strange, dark places that don't make sense at first, and helps us see that they do make sense, and are therefore not so scary.”

Parents: Just make sure ParaNorman is age-appropriate. This film is rated PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language. Most of the kids above eight in our audience handled ParaNorman without issues; however, a younger child had to leave in tears. One particular scene had me emitting a high-pitched girlie scream, which I quickly tried to cover.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle

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