out of Five
Running time: 93
Gorgeously animated and beautifully designed, this is an entertaining adventure with strong characters, a handful of very funny gags and an important central message, but it's also slightly let down by a poorly conceived plot and a disappointing finale.
What's it all about?
Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell, ParaNorman is a stop-motion animated adventure from Laika, the studio behind the rather wonderful Coraline (and if you haven't seen that, do). Set in the sleepy town of Blithe Hollow, the film centres on Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a lonely 11 year old boy who can speak to ghosts. However, when his creepy uncle (John Goodman) tells him that it's up to him to stop the town from succumbing to a centuries-old witch's curse, Norman finds himself facing off against the walking dead, aided by his boy-crazy cheerleader sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), chubby best friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) and Neil's jock older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck).
The animation is beautifully designed throughout, with the filmmakers achieving an impressive yellowed lighting effect that gives the film the feel of a 1970s horror movie. Similarly, the script combines several excellent gags (the best of which, annoyingly, is in the trailer) with clever movie references and some genuinely creepy scenes (the 3D effects are used really well for once), while also delivering an important message about tolerance, fear and being different.
The voicework is superb throughout: Let Me In's Smit-McPhee (Hollywood's current go-to weird kid) is the perfect choice for Norman and there's strong comic support from Kendrick, Albrizzi and Mintz-Plasse, while Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann turn in reliably amusing turns as Norman's parents and John Goodman is very funny in his brief appearance as Norman's uncle.
The problem with the film is that the script is more concerned with hammering home its admittedly commendable message than it is in actually making any sense; for example, it's established early on that Norman can talk to the dead and that the town is full of ghosts he talks to on a daily basis and yet none of these characters reappear and Norman's gift plays almost no part in him saving the town.
The set-up of the central message also means that after a certain point, the film has nowhere left to go, which results in a climax that is both overly wordy (there's about ten minutes of speeches) and distinctly unsatisfying.
ParaNorman is beautifully animated with terrific voice work, likeable characters and some delightfully creepy moments, but the poorly conceived script means that it's neither as funny, as exciting or as emotionally engaging as it should have been.