Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Road) is an eleven year old boy living in a small
famous for hanging a Witch three hundred years ago. Massachusetts is unpopular at home and ridiculed at
school because he believes that he can talk to ghosts. After being approached
by a creepy old man about averting the ‘curse of the Witch’, Norman
accidentally raises a horde of zombies from their graves before enlisting their
help along with that of his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), friend Neil (Tucker
Albrizzi), Jock Mitch (Casey Affleck) and school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse)in
sending the Witch back to her grave. Norman
The first of three hotly anticipated horror/comedy/stop motion kids films we’ll see in the coming weeks and coming three years after Laika’s success with Coraline, ParaNorman begins with a flourish which sets it up to be an interesting and funny family film. Unfortunately it runs out of steam after about fifty minutes when the jokes dry up and the predictable plot takes over from what had been a fun, film which takes a surprisingly candid look at death.
The world of ParaNorman is very well animated and in a similar style to Coraline, only this time in colour. I’m a huge fan of stop motion but I like the Ray Harryhausen or
style where you can actually see thumb prints and the design process. It’s an
odd criticism but for me the animation is a little too neat and smooth. One of
the great benefits stop motion has over GCI or hand drawn cartoons is that it
is extremely adaptable and movements should show that. When animation and
effects are of the standard of ParaNorman
it makes me wonder why stop motion puppets were used in the first place. Arden
The opening half especially is littered with witty jokes and references to the likes of Dawn of the Dead, The Exorcist and Friday the 13th for the parents while the kids could enjoy sight gags and the odd joke which only the children in the audience found funny. The ‘stopping a curse with a band of unlikely heroes’ plot was a bit naff and provided nothing new or particularly exciting except for one thing. I really liked the zombie’s arc and though I won’t spoil it, it’s the narrative highlight of the film. There is one other surprise line late on which got some laughs and will no doubt draw some attention from the Christian Right but everything else is formulaic and re-hashed. I don’t know if it is a response to the film or the fault of a Saturday lunchtime screening but by the half way mark it wasn’t only the children in the audience who were starting to fidget and a father and son in the row in front both fell asleep and snored loudly through the final third. Both my girlfriend and I also needed a nap when we got home. That’s not really a ringing endorsement.
The cast is large and talented and you will be able to recognise several well known actors but due to the nature of the script no one really stands out. An area I did enjoy was the soundtrack/score. Music was used sparingly in the film but when it was it worked really well. There was a sort of Nicolas Winding Refn style electro score which was surprising to hear and I was also delighted to hear rapper Dizzee Rascal’s Fix Up, Look Sharp get a brief airing. The credits roll over The White Stripes Little Ghost which I’d happily listen to any day.
Overall ParaNorman is a film with a strong beginning, poor middle and dull end. It is funny at times and the animation is good but I’m expecting more from Frankenweenie and Hotel Transylvania.