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Fun, Brilliant ‘ParaNorman’ Delivers For All Audiences

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Average: 4.5 (387 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 4.5/5.0
Rating: 4.5/5.0

CHICAGO – “ParaNorman” is not only the best animated film of 2012 by a large margin but it’s better than anything that came out last year as well. The latest stop-motion gem from LAIKA (who made another one of the best animated films of the last several years in “Coraline”) is smart, funny, scary, imaginative, and, most surprisingly of all, moving. Don’t miss it.

Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) loves watching TV with his grandmother (Elaine Stritch). The only problem is his irascible relative happens to be dead. Like the kid in “Sixth Sense,” Norman sees ghosts everywhere in the small New England town of Blithe Hollow. And they’re much less terrifying than just going to school. They’re kind of his only friends. Between classes, Norman is bullied by jerks like Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and teased by his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick). Norman’s only real friend is the even-more-awkward Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) but he’s clearly loved by his concerned parents (Leslie Mann & Jeff Garlin) as well even if they worry about their troubled boy.

ParaNorman
ParaNorman
Photo credit: Focus Pictures

After the creepy town outsider (John Goodman) warns Norman that he’s the only one who can save the town from an impending supernatural destruction, our hero heads off on a Scooby-Doo-esque adventure with Neil, Courtney, Alvin, and Alvin’s jock brother Mitch (Casey Affleck). It turns out that the witch trial history of Blithe Hollow, one that they’ve turned into a tourist attraction, has some darker secrets than even the school pageant could reveal. Can the least popular kid in town save everyone from the vengeance being sought by the town’s dark past?

Conceived as “John Hughes meets John Carpenter,” “ParaNorman” has definite echoes of ‘80s action/horror films like “The Goonies” and “Gremlins.” It has a spirit of adventure that has simply been too-often supplanted by pop culture references and bodily humor in modern animation. Writer/directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell understand so many important elements of their art that other, more consumer-oriented filmmakers miss. Most importantly, they don’t play down to their audience, realizing that quality children’s entertainment doesn’t placate young ones but sparks their imaginations. Animation too often becomes a place holder, an electronic babysitter for a few hours. “ParaNorman” never gives one the feeling that it was created out of anything less than passion for the form of storytelling.

And that passion is infectious. “ParaNorman” is one of those films that just produces grins from beginning to end. Well, mostly. Without spoiling anything, the third act of “ParaNorman” takes that amazing turn a la “Toy Story 3” in which emotions bubble to the surface in amazing ways. It’s a stellar script in the way that Butler & Fell are always one step ahead of the viewer. The movie twists and turns from humor to action to horror to social commentary and yet never feels tonally inconsistent. And like the best rides, you’d never predict where it’s headed and yet it feels totally right when you get there. If there’s a flaw, it’s that the middle act gets a bit repetitive. The set-up and finale are 5-star perfect but there’s a slight sag in the action and development around the hour mark that I wish had been ever-so-slightly tightened. It’s a minor complaint.

ParaNorman
ParaNorman
Photo credit: Focus Pictures

As for the design, “ParaNorman” looks great. From the archetypal characters like the chiseled jock and egocentric sister to the more unique creations (there’s one in the final act that’s simply breathtaking), “ParaNorman” has one of the strongest visual palettes of any animated film in the past decade, including Pixar’s lauded creations. I loved the look of the movie from frame one until the credits rolled.

Finally, the voice work matches it all with high caliber turns from Smit-McPhee, Affleck, Kendrick, and everyone involved. When one sees as many animated films as I do, it’s easy to distinguish the projects for which the vocal talent was actually excited and the ones in which you can practically hear them endorsing the check while they lackadaisically read their lines. We’ve seen way too many of the latter this year but there’s some honestly great vocal work here in “ParaNorman.”

After one of the best years in animation history in 2010 with “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Toy Story 3,” and “The Illusionist,” we’ve been suffering through something of a dry spell. Let’s hope that “ParaNorman” is the start of the next wave of animation brilliance.

“ParaNorman” features voice work by Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill, Jodelle Ferland, and John Goodman. It was written by Chris Butler and directed by Butler & Sam Fell. It is rated PG and opens on August 17, 2012.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

ziggy one of the best's picture

"ParaNorman"

I like this film since I’m not a fan of animated bull i has to say this was very good

Manny be down's picture

"ParaNorman"

WOW its’was really kind of smart,funny and a little scary.

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