‘ParaNorman’ is one of the best films of the year

‘ParaNorman’ — Photo courtesy of LAIKA, Inc.

ParaNorman, the new animated film from directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell, is one of the best films of the year. Its characters, plot and animation style are so much better than most other family fare in the marketplace. The visuals are rich in detail, with no wasted scenes or throwaway roles. This is a well-planned and perfectly executed animated film, one of the highlights of the closing summer season.

Kodi Smit-McPhee voices Norman Babcock, an oddball boy who loves all things horror. He stays up late and watches zombie movies. His room is a treasure trove of genre goodies. And, of course, he talks to the living dead, including his deceased grandmother who sits on the couch and watches the zombie flicks as well. He’s not exactly your typical boy.

At school, Norman is a loner. The only person who enjoys his company is Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi), a similarly lonesome boy who finds himself on the receiving end of “fat” jokes. This unlikely duo team up with a few other people from the neighborhood and try to stop a zombie invasion when an old witch’s curse rears its ugly head.

Like many family films, the kids can’t quite understand the adults, and vice versa. Norman’s parents and his sister see the young boy as the strange one who doesn’t know how to go outside, enjoy the fresh air or find friends. They liken him to his crazy uncle (voiced by John Goodman) that lives in town and can apparently talk to the dead as well.

Throughout the 92-minute adventure, there’s some great humor and fast-paced action. The story will prove enjoyable to parents and children (although some of the jokes will fly right over the heads of the youngest audience members).

The animation style is beautiful, featuring what appears to be mostly claymation and some CGI. All of the individual characters are sculpted, while the ghostly zombies seem to float around with the aid of some computer wizardry (although the zombies themselves look sculpted from clay). The town where Norman lives is a great parody of Salem, Mass., with every other store cashing in on the infamous witch trials. It seems like a perfect location for Norman’s imagination to run rampant.

When a family-geared film brings together characterization and plot so well, while still preserving enough time for jokes and aww-shucks moments, then it’s the tell-tale sign that masters are working on their craft. Directors Butler and Fell have created a mini-masterpiece, deciding to go with talented voice actors over the celebrity of the month, and dedicating themselves to thoughtful drama, silly humor and a unique central character. This one is a winner.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • ParaNorman

  • 2012

  • Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell

  • Written by Butler

  • Featuring the voice talents of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Elaine Stritch, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin

  • Running time: 92 minutes

  • Rated PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language

  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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