Remember the kid who was a little different? A little odd? Was it you? (for me it certainly was) Well, that's Norman, except he can talk to dead people. So can other members of his family-- a lineage and power passed from generation to generation to protect his little town from a witch's ancient curse that threatens to bring zombies to life to terrorize the town on the anniversary of her untimely death.

ParaNorman is a nice little movie. It treads on a lot of familiar ground, borrowing heavily in tone and archetypes from things like The Goonies, Monster House, Harry Potter, Monsters Inc, and ET. Filmed in stop motion animation, it's refreshing and fun to watch, with a few really amazingly-animated sequences. A scene where the ghost of Norman's dead uncle is trying to talk to him through a toilet in the school bathroom, which then, of course, explodes, is really fun-- as are the effects when the witch's magic rains down on the town.

First-time writer and direct Chris Butler (he'd previously done animation and art direction for The Corpse Bride and Coraline, resemblances to both you can directly see) obviously has a huge passion for the project, and his excitement and enthusiasm almost oozes off the screen.  He's backed up by an amazing cast, featuring John Goodman, Jeff Garlin, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Tempesst Bledsoe, and Alex Borstein. Yes. All of those people. And they're all. REALLY. Good.

Like I said, this film plays off of archetypes and so we have Jeff Garlin as the disapproving dad who doesn't understand his weird son, Leslie Mann as Norman's loving mother, John Goodman as the crazy uncle,  and of course there's a fat friend, a nitwit bully (played by McLovin himself, playing against type), the cheerleader sister (Kendrick), and the jock (Affleck-- who almost steals the movie with his doofus characterization). The film is also filled with other smaller characters and lots of little gags and bits-- like a guy who just put his quarters in the machine to buy a bag of chips who then sees zombies coming at him, screams and thinks about running away, but then waits for the chips to come out first.

It's also got a good heart, and just like the other movies before it, shows that there's a place in this world for the kids who don't quite fit in or are otherwise special.

Now, walking in, I had two major questions: what is the age appropriate level for this movie and should I bother with 3D. The answer to the first is a resounding no. This film is kind of dark to begin with and you lose a lot with the 3D.  As for age, I had considered before seeing the screening bringing my 4 and 7 year old to this, as they both love Plants vs Zombies, Matilda, etc. I would probably not take either of them. There are some real scares in here. Most of them are probably not appropriate for kids under 9 or 10, but the real target audience is a bit older: kids in 5th-7th grade.

And now time to nitpick. The stop motion animation was overall really great, but there were certain things that. . . .just didn't look "right." Uncle Prenderghast's beard just didn't look right when it was moving-- and since the voice actor was John Goodman, I couldn't help but compare it to the attention Pixar gave to the way Sully's hair moved in Monsters Inc. . .and this just looked a little janky, for lack of a better term. For those moments, it took me out of the movie and made me focus on that flaw instead of enjoying the movie, which is what I was doing 99% of the time.

And now, I have a somewhat major spoiler. I'm doing it all in invisotext, but I just have to comment on this because I think we might see a big backlash from people like the Family Research Council and other homophobic biddies out there. You have been warned:

In the final 5 minutes of the film, Casey Affleck's character, the jock, who has been hit on the entire movie by the cheerleader character, is asked by her if he wants go hang out sometime, and he mentions that he has a boyfriend that would love to come along. Dum-dum-dum! Kind of a cheap joke, but funny, and explains his character the whole time and how oblivious he is to this girl throwing herself at him the whole movie.

Anyway, so prepare yourself for the backlash, which I think is just ridiculous, especially given the context of the film.  DOUBLE SPOILER ALERT-- REALLY, DON'T READ ANY FURTHER UNLESS YOU WANT A MAJOR PLOT SPOILER. So it turns out that the "witch" condemned to die by the Puritanical town council centuries ago was, in fact, just a little girl who was different from everyone else, and because she was different (she pretended to talk to people and spirits who weren't really there) they put her to death. A major theme of the film is bullying and people who are different, and considering the major problem we have with bullying of kids specifically by calling them gay or because they are gay, it would be in really terrible taste for someone to make a political statement out of this movie by saying because the jock is gay, then it must be inappropriate for kids.

Talk about a Puritanical town council standing in judgment of those who are different, eh?

Ok, rant and spoilers over.

I really liked ParaNorman. When I walked out I wasn't so sure, but it's been one of those films that I keep thinking about-- a feat that has only been accomplished by 3 other movies for me this summer: Avengers, Batman, and Prometheus. So, pretty good for a kids movie. I didn't like it as much as Brave or The Lorax, but this is a good film to take your kids to-- especially if they, like me, were the ones who were a little bit odd growing up.

2 3/4 stars.

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