Before I start talking about ParaNorman, I want to make a couple of things clear. Including ParaNorman, there are four spooky, stop action films that people tend to mix up. Tim Burton did NOT direct The Nightmare Before Christmas. He did director Corpse Bride and he wrote The Nightmare Before Christmas. A man named Henry Selick directed the Nightmare Before Christmas. Henry Selick also directed Coraline, a project on which a man named Chris Butler worked. Along with the help of Sam Fell, Chris Butler directed the charmingly hilarious film ParaNorman.
Now that we have taken care of that and nobody thinks Tim Burton directed all four films I mentioned above, its time to talk about ParaNorman. The film is about Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young boy who can see and talk to ghosts. Starting the film by showing Norman speaking to his dead grandmother (Elaine Stritch), Norman lives in the town of Blithe Hollow with his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), his mother Sandra Babcock (Leslie Mann) and his father Perry Babcock (Jeff Garlin) and is the only member of his immediate family that can speak to ghosts. His uncle, Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman), can also see ghosts but nobody in the family talks to him. Misunderstood by his family and friends, Norman lives as an outcast, labeled a freak, with no friends and no one willing to understand his unique gift.
It is not only Norman that has a spooky history with the dead but the town of Blithe Hollow as well. Years ago, during the infamous witch hunts, the town condemned a witch to death. As the witched died, she cursed the town. Eventually the curse was forgotten by everybody but Mr. Prederghast, who has single handedly been keeping the curse in check for years. He passes the task down to Norman just before (and after) he dies, telling Norman that he must read a book at the witch’s grave every year on her birthday or her ghost will rise to destroy the town. When Norman fails to read the book, the dead rise along with the witch’s ghost. Together, with the help of his only friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), the school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), his sister and Neil’s older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck), Norman must go on an adventure to uncover the truth about the witch and save his town.
This film was entertaining, hilarious and surprisingly suspenseful from beginning to end. The stop motion action in the film is incredibly detailed, making me wonder how much patience and skill it must take to create such a brilliant feature length film with the delicate technique. Though the film was advertised for children, the humor stayed away from slapstick for the most part, using witty banter and quick one-liners to stir laughter from kindergartener to senior citizen. The film was more than just laughs however. Creating some scenes reminiscent of true zombie films but with a slightly comedic twist, the film created a number of sequences that had me on the edge of my seat.
Beyond just laughter, suspense and entertainment, the film was a family film that brought up a number of different points. Bullying is heavy in the film as we watch Norman get made fun of over and over only to go home to have his parents think of his as abnormal just like all the kids at school. When Norman eventually befriends Neil, the audience is given a very interesting perspective on bullying. An overweight child that gets made fun of for many different things, Neil doesn’t let the bullies get to him. He shrugs it off, saying that if he were dumber he would probably be a bully too. Straying from the classic overweight character that feels bad for themselves, Neil adds a very interesting and positive aspect to the film as he begins to defend Norman and his special gift without question.
I found this film to be endlessly entertaining and oddly touching. The film delivered laughs, made a point about bullying and even brought up questions about ghosts and the undead, all in spookily beautiful stop motion animation. As far as entertainment goes, I give this film a 5 out of 5 and as far as it being a good film, looking at shots and story, I give it a 4 out of 5 coming to a total of 9 out of 10. This is a great film to see in theaters whether you are going as a family or just want to go with a couple of friends.