Dead grandmas certainly aren't outside the norm, but what about a long-gone granny whose shopworn spirit sits on the sofa while she knits, watches TV, and has long talks with her grandson? That's perfectly paranormal, as far as 11-year-old Norman Babcock is concerned.
He's been having conversations with the dead (and the un-dead) ever since he can remember. And it's not just people. The thoughtful, kindly kid plays fetch with dead dogs, pets putrid parrots and just in general does his best to keep all species, specters and souls happy.
It's not easy, straddling the endless abyss of the netherworld while dealing with the taunts of the bullies in his class and putting up with his bratty, self-absorbed sibling, Courtney, at home. But Norman is nothing, if not dutiful. It's that exact tried and true trait which ropes the pragmatic preteen into solving an age old mystery and hopefully laying to the rest the souls of a gaggle of restive ghosts.
Norman and his family reside in a Salem of sorts — Blithe Hollow, where witches were burned back in the day and where now, zombies roam the nights. It's a picturesque tourist town… until the tourists are targeted as brain-food. As undead creatures take over the occult-friendly 'burb, it's up to Norman and co. — big sis, boneheaded bully, plus assorted others in tow — to save the day.
The filmmakers of this prettily presented stop-motion kiddie flick have said that they were going for a John Carpenter meets John Hughes vibe, but ParaNorman doesn't have quite enough punch to live up to that aspiration.
Bits and pieces of other bodies of work — their own with Coraline and Flushed Away, as well as the influence of The Corpse Bride and even Shaun of the Dead — can be seen. The movie does have a lot of amusing asides and memorable moments, plus some insidery touches for parents who were young in the slasherific 80s, but it lacks something. The absence of a clear antagonist is certainly an issue; but still, I can't quite pinpoint the film's innate sense of inertia. The characters are well-drawn, the story is engaging enough… there's just (pardon the pun, for a zombie flick) no bite. It's fun, but aside from a no-holds-barred, visually beautiful and emotional ending, when the mystery of the most misunderstood monster of all is revealed, there's not much to keep your eyes peeled to the 3D.
ParaNorman is a cute rated PG kids' movie (thank gawd, it's not a musical) and it's well-done enough for their parents to enjoy; bit if you're childless (or not a big fan of animation) there's little reason to see ParaNorman on the big screen.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson