By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)


From Chris Butler, storyboard artist for Coraline and Corpse Bride, and Sam Fell, director of The Tale of Despereaux and Flushed Away, comes an exceptional and lovely stop-motion animation film which may be my favorite mainstream animated movie of the year so far. Butler, who also wrote the film, fashions a story which, on the surface, seems like a basic horror movie for kids, but actually has a much deeper and heartfelt message for people of all ages.  Not only does Butler’s story bear an earnest moral, it provides ninety-three minutes of satisfying entertainment.  The entertainment comes mainly from the exceptional use of humor throughout the movie. Butler has an undeniable flair for comedic writing and rarely falters in ParaNorman.

Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a confounding loner, has a special gift which, most of the time, doesn’t feel like a gift at all, but more like a curse. Normanhas the ability to see and speak with ghosts.  After the town “crazy” Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman) attempts to warn Norman about a witch’s curse and implores him to intervene, zombies begin to rise from their graves.  Norman, his new friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), Neil’s brother Mitch (Casey Affleck), Norman’s sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) must read from an ancient book to lift the curse before the zombies set off a chain of events which could tear the town apart.

Butler and Fell certainly give their characters an unusual look with hyperbolic features.  I had no problems with this exaggerated style and thought it fitting with story and overall feel of the movie.  The stop-motion work flows smoothly and looks incredible.  The 3D experience does not always deliver as I felt that it could have been utilized better, considering the horror theme.  The film has a slightly anti-climactic ending which I thought needs a bit more excitement and suspense.  Otherwise, I truly loved this movie and must highly recommend it.  I think that the material and supernatural creatures may spook small children.  I also feel that a few jokes, obviously geared toward the grown-ups, may be a bit too strong for the little ones.  I am not a parent, but I would guess that the appropriate minimum age for the movie would be ten.

Before I conclude the review, I have to offer the voice cast kudos for their wonderful work.  Kodi Smit McPhee, Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick and Christopher Mintz-Plasse all provide extraordinary voice work here, but my favorite cast member and character would have to be Tucker Albrizzi who voices Neil.  Tucker does a sensational job and has loads of hilarious lines.  This young man obviously has talent and should be featured in more movies.  ParaNorman also features some lovely work by Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Tempest Bledsoe, Alex Borstein and John Goodman.

As this is my favorite mainstream animated film of the year so far, I have no qualms about encouraging people to spend top dollar to see it.  This year hasn’t really offered any major stand-out animated movies.  That is until now.  I also believe that grownup fans of horror films will have a greater appreciation for some of the jokes and references. Butler and Fell deliver the goods and I applaud them for it.

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