Stars:Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick and Christopher Mintz-Plasse
A misunderstood boy takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.
Now, I don't pretend to know a great deal about the intricacies of stop-motion, but I sure as hell know what I like, and I'll take stop-motion over CG any day of the week.
Nothing against CG artists...they do an incredible job, but for this old rodeo rider, there's very few things in the world of cinema that can captivate and charm like a solid, traditional animated tale. I grew up with Ray Harryhausen's cavalcade of creatures, and I still return to those magical films regularly...they never fail to resurrect the monster-mad kid that lives in my time-weathered soul. Its even more impressive to view a full film created in stop motion, and few horror fans will proclaim anything but love for A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and MAD MONSTER PARTY, and its into this very small, but very much loved family that PARANORMAN belongs.
The most obvious and striking thing here is, of course, the visuals. The world in which the tale takes place is simply beautiful to behold.Its pretty hard to grasp the imagination its creators must possess to give such vivid life to these characters and their environments. Normals town is simply brimming with vibrant, ghoulish life. His world is one that's both delightful on the eye, yet strangely warped. Like all good family horror, PARANORMAN implements all the staples of the genre that we often subconsciously love; from ghouls and ghosts, to Ghost-House-luminescent green lighting, fog and gnarled forestry. Its a world peppered with genre in-jokes and a shamelessly geeky understanding of genre cinema. All is shot with an autumnal palette that really gives the film that 'Halloween' flavor.
Now, onto the story..
PARANORMAN comes across like a twisted, Gothic fairy tale that melds retro cinema magic with a more cynical, modern bite. In the character of Norman, many horror fans will find real kinship. His bedroom is garbed with all manner of horror memorabilia, and he's something of an outcast in his school life and at home due to his love for all things macabre...who does that remind you of? He even has the HALLOWEEN them as his ringtone.
Okay, so most of us don't communicate with ghosts on a daily basis, but we can all relate to a slightly quirky kid who's tastes flow more easily to the dark side of life. Hes a great lead character, and a surprisingly deep and layered one for an animated family film. There's real warmth and humanity put into these once inanimate models. Take one look at the actors involved, (see above), and as you would imagine, the voice cast are stellar, with the mighty John Goodman stealing the show even in limited capacity as Norman's estranged, and strange, uncle, (who shares Normans gift of communing with the deceased).
And its funny too, in a quirky, slightly queasy way. The jokes are often tinged with black humor, but often hit the mark as Normans world becomes ever more strange. For example, one early scene features the ghost of a family pet that has been sliced in half...the front half trots around behind the back half to sniff its own ass. Some would say its dark, or even distasteful, but I can see kids being delighted by this stuff. Kids are far less fragile than we think, and the many horror/adult elements that the film boasts should be plain sailing for most children. Haunted woods, spooky green witches and the living dead are all, well...kids stuff. The more adult themes, (which are central to the story) of familial acceptance, persecution, grief and injustice are deftly handled and with a real warmth. Our young ones can take it, at least when portrayed in such a gentle manner as they are here.
Don't get me wrong, the film does contain some freakishly tense moments, (for kids, I mean); I'm just saying that that is no bad thing. We all grew up with this sort of stuff. It shaped who we are. We'd be some unbelievable bastards if we didn't allow our little ones the same pleasures. When I think of horror in my head, I don't think of MARTYRS, or I SAW THE DEVIL. As great as those more adult works of horror are, I think of the glorious Technicolor terrors of the classic Hammer Films, or the fog-enshrouded forests of THE WOLFMAN. Childhood is the place where our love of the macabre takes root, and PARANORMAN fits perfectly into that mold. The constantly eerie visuals...the dark humor...the genuine love for horror past and present...the heartfelt message behind the tale...all these things conspire to make this a dead-cert future Halloween classic.
The story isn't exactly original, but that's besides the point here. this isn't about originality for all of us. For the kids, sure, but for the adults its all about familiarity and wistful memory. the balance is near perfect. There's also a timely and thoughtful message behind the tale which is easy to grasp for children without being in any way inauthentic. What we got here is a lovely blend of genre excess and emotional subtlety that holds up with the very best family films out there.
PARANORMAN will appeal to all ages. Its charm and wit will win over non-horror fans, and its ghoulish visual pizzazz will have old school fans salivating. Kids will adore and relate to the central character and his offbeat friends,(Mintz-Plasse is particularly hilarious), and the cinephiles will have a confidently crafted, stylishly directed and beautifully scored slice of offbeat cinema to chew on.
If, like myself, you a cineaste, an old school horror fan and a kid, (inside your heart),...well, you just found yourself a new Halloween tradition that just begs to be passed down to the younger generation. PARANORMAN is a fun, bittersweet tale that will captivate and touch audiences of all ages.
9 Witch-Hunters out of 10