By Laurie Coker

Rating: C+

As we drove to the screening of ParaNorman, my grandson explained to me that he simply did not like the film Coraline, a film I thought he enjoyed, so I worried that I picked the wrong plus one for the screening. He never actually articulated what he disliked about co-director Chris Butler’s previous film, so I crossed my fingers. Lucky for me he did appreciate ParaNorman far more than I expected. I, on the other hand, left slightly dissatisfied.

Norman sees dead people and everyone, including his family, thinks he is weird. Who wouldn’t? He holds conversations with his deceased grandmother, greets specters on the street (including a suicide victim and a road-kill squirrel) and gets shunned and bullied for his oddness while at his middle school. His crazy uncle has a secret, one he desperately needs to pass on to Norman, and the town in which they live has long been cursed by a witch, wronged during Puritan times. Upon his uncle’s death, Norman finds himself charged with protecting the townspeople from the evil witch’s curse, but he soon discovers there is more to the story and then he’s been told.

Co-directed by Sam Fell and Butler from a script by Butler, ParaNorman boasts impressive animation, but because these visual marvels are built on missed opportunities for humor and a storyline riddled with holes, the film fails to deliver overall. It’s a jumble of The Crucible, Bully and The Sixth Sense, but not enough of any of these to actually work well, particularly for older patrons. Unlike other high quality children’s films (even from these directors), ParaNorman lacks the adult appeal necessary in such fair. It seems to lean towards horror comedy, but the horror is far too light handed, even for kids, and the comedy never hits it mark. The premise truly is charming and the plot has potential, but never quite meets expectations, falling short, ultimately and clearly leaning on its extraordinary imagery.

Kodi Smit-McPhee voices Norman, Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann his parents and other characters are voiced by Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, known names, but certainly not notable stars, but then this wouldn’t be an issue had the script offered more. For a young child, this matters little with animation of this caliber. It is truly stunning and completely seamless, so much so that I saw no reason to offer it in 3D and everyone knows how much I dislike 3D.

To be clear, I appreciated many aspects of the PG rated ParaNorman and I appreciated the characters and visuals. In its finale, Butler and Fell offer an all too heavy handed anti-bullying diatribe, but it’s inadequately developed throughout the film, so no clear theme emerges and one seems necessary. I am placing a C+ in my grade book. It does a few things extremely well, so deserves at least that. Case would give it an A, while he said he’d give Coraline far lower, “like a zero” he said. It garners praise from an eight-year-old and a meh from me.

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