Stop-motion animation may not have the glitz of a Pixar animated feature, but ParaNorman still tops Pixar’s Brave with a whole lot of ghoulish heart, offbeat comedy and a dark-undead story that begs to be re-watched.
ParaNorman skews to a more mature audience than Brave. Laika Entertainment simply uses stop motion as its means of telling an untraditional story, which in this case is an excellent one filled with a few unique twists. From the moment we meet Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), who talks to his deceased couch-potato grandma (voiced by Elaine Stritch), we see that this is a dark and somewhat morbid tale. How did his grandma die? We don’t know, nor do we care. We only know that his grandma hangs out on the couch because she promised to look out for Norman and that everyone else in Norman’s house believes that he is a little crazy. When Norman goes to school, he walks around greeting dead people that no one else can see – except his neurotic – borderline insane – uncle.
The movie starts off with a standard set of stereotypical suburban characters, including: the bully, the blond airhead sister, the dumb jock next door, the conservative parents and the dopey friend. However, these characters are far from typical, especially once the movie has a chance to spread its undead wings.
When Norman’s uncle pops in on him in the bathroom, things start to shift in an unpredictable, yet startlingly enjoyable way. This small town has been plagued by a curse dating back to the days of the Salem witch-hunts and only Norman can stop it thanks to his special gift. Unfortunately, nobody believes he is telling the truth.
Cue the zombies.
ParaNorman is filled with pop culture references and laughs that creep up from the most bizarre places. Everything about this movie feels like a curve ball, and a smartly thrown one at that. In fact, the “para” ParaNorman is less about paranormal activities and more about the paranoid nature of human beings.
Although the story is a hero’s tale at its core, there are several great moments for supporting characters. Stritch does a superb job as a wise grandma who gives lessons through cynicism. Alvin (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the bully, gives Mintz-Plasse a chance to use his trademark voice in a role that would be atypical for him on camera. Courtney (voiced by Anna Kendrick) may seem like a bimbo, but she’s just playing to her stereotype to try and bate the guy. Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi), Norman’s dopey friend, doesn’t come off as Chunk from Goonies. Rather, he makes smart, likable choices. He’s also great with animals, which makes for one of the more playful scenes in the movie.
ParaNorman reminds us that if we could only stop and speak to zombies, perhaps our culture wouldn’t be so obsessed with them. But, of course, then we wouldn’t have The Walking Dead to keep us glued to the TV like Norman’s grandma.