"ParaNorman" Review: A Claymation for the Undead

Updated on May 31, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

ParaNorman starts with a joke that magically also works as a tribute. We see an old, zero-budget zombie flick on an old TV, with an awful but cute actress and a clumsy, slow ghoul.

The idea is to quickly establish that the protagonist of this story, 11-year-old Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), is a kid who is obsessed with horror movies. His room is full of posters of different slashers and zombie movies, and his ringtone is John Carpenter's Halloween theme.

The first time we see Norman, he's trying to explain the movie to his grandmother Babcock (Elaine Stritch), who seems not to understand the tastes of her grandson but doesn't judge him at all.

Right after that, we meet the rest of Norman's family: his loving mother, Sandra (Leslie Mann), his strict and noisy father, Perry (Jeff Garlin), and his teenaged and superficial older sister, cheerleader Courtney (Anna Kendrick). In this family breakfast discussion, a unique aspect of Norman is revealed: Grandma passed away a while ago, but Norman is able to see and communicate with her ghost.

And that ghost is way more supportive than his living family.

His normal route from home to school reveals the breadth of this unique, supernatural talent of Norman's. Norman greets and briefly talks with dozens of ghosts who lived (and possibly died) in those spots.

Of course, Norman is considered the "creepy kid" of the school. And although he is always bullied by 13-year-old Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Norman doesn't stop showing his cultural love for death (his horror films) and his unique connection with the dead. The only kid interested in forming a friendship with Norman is the eccentric but innocent Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), but Norman prefers to live only with his dead people.

Norman lives in Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts, which has a rather macabre history based on the traditional celebration of the burning of three witches 300 years ago.

The already strange world of Norman changes radically when the local "crazy guy"—who is also his great-uncle, although Norman's parents dismiss him—Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman) confronts him. According to Mr. Prenderghast, Norman must succeed him in practicing an annual ritual that protects the town from a horrible curse.

Norman ignores him until the day of the town's celebration of the burning of witches, when he experiences a vivid vision showing the reality of the horrendous historical fact: A little girl named Aggie Prenderghast was wrongly accused of witchcraft and burned alive by the town council. Aggie and Norman, in addition to possibly being related, share a similar story, which is why Norman identifies more quickly with her story.

Regrettably, Norman isn't prepared to avoid the mystical curse: A giant ghostly figure ends up reviving the corpses of the old town council that condemned the girl to death.

Norman must now contain a small zombie outbreak as well as find a way to eliminate the curse thrown over the town.

There is something symbolic in telling a story about reanimated corpses using the stop-motion technique. It's like a second layer of reanimation: that of the story and that of the technique itself, which makes dolls and inert objects come alive.

Laika's work is technically impeccable. We're talking about a massive, three-year dedication, with numbers such as 9,000 different faces used for the main character or 12 months to animate just ONE complex scene.

Simply put, you have to be a cynical, ignorant bastard to negatively criticize this manual labor of love.

The animation world, especially stop-motion, gives little room for improvisation. That translates into a script that has to be very polished and detailed when starting the shooting process. And in this case, the script is a good one, full of funny gags, good twists and clear respect to the horror genre, which is evident in the many tributes and Easter eggs throughout the movie.

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ParaNorman also takes seriously its role as a Rated G film, placing an important coming-of-age story about tolerance at its core.

ParaNorman is mostly about resentment. Using a modern story of bullying and comparing it with another one from the past, similar in spirit but way more tragic in practice, the script reveals the importance of breaking the pattern of abuse and even forgiving (but never forgetting) the abuser.

This movie tells the story through a group of memorable misfits. First is Norman and his freaky talent to see dead people. Then, there's his friend Neil, who is bullied for being overweight. Neil's brother, Mitch, is a good-spirited, homosexual big jock. The rest of the gang consists of a cheerleader and a bully because ParaNorman wants to illustrate how a victim and perpetrator in a teenage social contract can overcome their differences and work together for a common goal.

ParaNorman is truly a film for all audiences. This is a small cinematic gem that must be enjoyed several times, in different moments of life.

Zombie Animation Movie Details

Title: ParaNorman

Release Year: 2012

Director(s): Chris Butler, Sam Fell

Writer(s): Chris Butler

Actors: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, a.o.

Runtime: 1 hour 32 minutes

Language: English

5 stars for ParaNorman

© 2019 Sam Shepards

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