I applaud films for trying to tap into the popular culture of their time and making the theme and message of the film relevant to the social landscape of the time period, but sometimes this leads to a muddled, lackluster plot. Such is the case with ParaNorman, as the desire to benefit from the current zombie craze and fight against bullying overshadows the development of characters and leaves something to be desired.


Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) can interact with dead people, or at least their souls. Everyone in the town of Blithe Hollow is aware of this and naturally, mocks him, even his own father (kind of). When Norman runs into his estranged uncle (John Goodman), he is warned of an ominous, annual event coming on the horizon that results from a witch-hunt that occurred centuries ago (and is also the main theme for the town). Once the victims of the witch’s curse rise from the dead, it is up to Norman to stop all the paranormal activity from occurring.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The animation is amazing. There’s no denying or arguing it. With stop motion, computer effects and the use of 3-D printers, the crew on this film did a spectacular job showing detail upon detail. As it is commonly seen as the end-all with regards to solid animation, check out the hands of the characters. You don’t get many close-ups, but when you do, there are intricate details that give the hands a more lifelike aesthetic that is often missing from this style.

Another interesting feature is how the film is shot. Similar to live-action films, the camera is constantly moving in unison with the movements of the characters and gives the ParaNorman a more realistic feel to it. There were a few times when I forgot I was watching clay figures, which is a good sign. The animators did well to provide authentic features, but still make their models look cartoonish in shape and image.

As mentioned earlier, the film is underwhelming otherwise. From the very beginning, something is off and missing from the story. I never was able to completely pinpoint what was absent—and still can’t—but I was never fully invested in the story. I found myself waiting for the curse to begin, or waiting to have the final clue reach Norman and finally waiting for the climax of the film.

While Norman’s tubby, little semi-friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) is entertaining and Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin lend their voices to the cause, none of the supporting characters are remotely interesting. Affleck’s Mitch has one interesting line at the very, very end thrown in just for the adults to catch, but it is far too little and far too late.

My dissatisfaction may stem from high hopes (and subsequent disappointment), but I genuinely believe even moderate expectations would not have been reached. It’s a shame such amazing animation was all for naught. Maybe the younger kids will enjoy it, but for anyone over, say, 12, ParaNorman doesn’t provide enough substance.

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