In Blithe Hollow, Norman Babcock (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a boy with an odd gift; he can see and talk to ghosts. To Norman, it’s nothing scary, but it freaks out everyone else, including his family. They don’t seem to believe him, though it’s hinted that this sort of thing runs in the family. It’s worse at school, where Norman is bullied constantly, especially by Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a presumably tough kid that has a great combination of disgusting and creepy. The only person who believes in Norman’s gift is his friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), a kid who gets bullied for being fat. Through events that are best not spoiled in a review, Norman starts having visions of his town’s past and has to figure out how to save everyone from a three hundred year old witch’s curse.
Between ParaNorman and Frankenweenie, this has been quite a year to introduce kids to horror films. While Frankenweenie has more references toward the classic Universal monster era, ParaNorman has frequent references to more modern slasher and zombie flicks. Halloween is constantly referenced, from the movie Norman is watching the opening scene to his ringtone. Norman’s room is covered in zombie posters and toys. I would love a pair of those slippers.
Between the film references, zombie hijinks and Norman’s companions bringing their unique personalities along for the ride, the laughs are fun but not constant. While The Pirates! was a laugh a minute, ParaNorman keeps the jokes high in the beginning and they cool down when our characters are in more perilous situations. This works because Norman seems like a more serious kid, often we’re laughing with him. The climactic moments are too powerful for comic relief.
A few images in ParaNorman may be a bit scary for the littlest ones. Some scenes feature zombies popping out of their graves, a ghost visiting Norman in a toilet and a powerful otherworldly being trying to attack Norman. While I didn’t find anything particularly scary, I was honestly blown away by the amazing effect of the witch’s face made out of swirling clouds in the sky. Whether it was CGI or not, I was genuinely impressed with all the animation and effects in this film.
Most animated films aren’t complete without a little lesson for the kids to grow on. Here, it’s primarily an anti-bullying message, both in a modern sense and shown with a historical perspective. There also seems to be brief messages about the importance of reading and history, which would have made Norman’s quest easier at one point.
Overall, ParaNorman is a fun family film with great horror bits. The story is engaging and smart, though it seems to get muddled around the third act. But best of all, the quality of animation and imagery is what secures its Oscar nomination. I really wish I shelled out my cash to see ParaNorman in 3D while it was in theaters. Such a visual feast.
“Mom, tell the Zombie to stop saying stuff about me!”