Review: 'ParaNorman' Makes the Paranormal Exceptional

"ParaNorman" is a powerful piece of filmmaking, elegantly and perfectly tying together every element, from the stunning stop-motion animation to the spooky and original story line and beyond. When a film like this starts out strong, so often it can lose steam midway through or completely bungle a singular aspect near the end. From the first few moments of "ParaNorman," it became apparent that this film was exceptional, worthy of trust that both the journey and destination would be enjoyable, and it absolutely did not disappoint.

Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a gentle soul, a quiet  young boy, obsessed with zombies and scary movies, who just happens to see and speak with all the ghosts lingering in the world around him. No one else can see these ghosts, and his family is concerned with his "delusions," especially when he claims to be able to see his deceased grandmother.

Norman is struggling in school, with only one friend, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), and though he tries to make the best of it, it's obvious that he feels like an outsider and a weirdo. With his special gifts, Norman finds himself grappling with a centuries-old witches curse, and when things go wrong, he's suddenly faced with zombies, witches and ghosts aplenty that wreak havoc on his small town.

With the help of his annoying teenage sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), Neil, Neil's dopey brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) and the town bully (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Norman sets out to undo the witch's curse, though he may be far too late.

Also check out: Christopher Mintz-Plasse on Zombies and the Wisdom of Sequels

"ParaNorman" is a 3-D stop-motion animated film from the studio that produced "Coraline," and both adventurous children and adults will find plenty to love here. The subject matter is a tad frightening, from the fleshy zombies and howling witches to the occasionally spooky ghosts, but any chill factor that "ParaNorman" might possess is tempered heavily with the humor and confidence of the script.

The movie might draw comparisons to Tim Burton, but where Burton veers hard into the bizarre and often eccentric, "ParaNorman" is beautiful, carefully and intentionally crafted with obvious love and attention to detail. From the tiniest nuances of facial expressions to the very different visual world, unlike anything I'd ever seen before, ParaNorman is so completely different, so fantastical and charming, thoroughly wild at heart and very weird on top.

The script is hilarious and heartfelt; From Norman's sullen sadness to Neil's bubbly simplicity, the Valley girl-esque performance of sister Courtney and the slack-jawed lump that is Mitch, these characters and many more set fire to the idea that animated characters can't portray real truths about the human experience. We've all felt like Norman at times, and the film touches on our shared experiences remarkably well.

And this is what makes "ParaNorman" more than just another meaningful animated film, what makes it exceptional:  the thoughtful pairing of every element. Jon Brion's score is moving and memorable, the look of Norman's world is magnificent, and the story isn't marked by pandering stupidity or by trying to appeal to only children or only adults.

Norman is different, but he isn't choosing to be different. He simply accepts his gifts and is confused that other people are disturbed by him. It is often our differences and the particulars of who we are that allow us to ease ourselves (and others) out of the mire of doubt and sadness in which we so easily become ensnared. "ParaNorman" is a deeply moving film, from the pleasure that a beautiful image can bring, to the joy to be found in a highly original and wonderfully composed story. In a year marked by sequels, and rehashed films that merely felt adequate, "ParaNorman" took a huge risk on a scarier concept, and it paid off enormously.

See it, and then go see it again.

Grade: A