A boy named Norman sees dead people. He battles an evil witch and a pack of zombies. But Norman isn't in a horror flick; he's the main character in the family film ParaNorman, a beautifully crafted and imaginative stop-motion-capture movie that, while far from groundbreaking, is fun to watch.
ParaNorman is clever, amusing and creative. It's clear that co-directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell are passionate about their subject. The film is full of life - ironic given that the story is all about death - and incredibly detailed. The visuals are impressive.
The story is simple and unoriginal, but it's the way the story is told that keeps ParaNorman energized. The screenplay is dribbled with fun moments, ranging from friendly references to popular horror movies to goofy tidbits, like a scene where a man waits for a vending machine to slowly dispense his purchase while he debates whether he can get his bag of chips before an advancing legion of zombies attack. The voice actors - led by Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In) - are pitch perfect for their characters and help bring them to life.
Unfortunately, ParaNorman needed more fun moments to set itself apart. As detailed and ambitious as it is in its execution, the movie is ultimately unremarkable. The movie succeeds on a clever line or silly reference, but when it falls into normal storytelling mode - something that happens more and more as it approaches the climax - it doesn't say anything new. It may be pretty, it may even be entertaining, but it doesn't leave a lasting impression.
2012 has been a weak year for animated family films. Few of the year's entries have received rave reviews, and even Pixar's latest entry Brave was far from their best. The only must-see animated movie of the year is Wreck-It Ralph. ParaNorman isn't a great movie, but it is a good one. It's fun to watch and even more fun to experience, and despite a seen-it-before story it is a refreshing change of pace from the high-budget animated sequels and mainstream entries that have bored audiences this year.
Now on video, the Blu-ray/DVD/Digital/Ultraviolet Combo Pack (phew!) comes with seven making-of featurettes, a look at preliminary animatic sequences and a directors' commentary.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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