I see dead people – who move a tiny bit 24 times a second.
Employing stop-motion animation – the process which brought those classic Christmas stories like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to life – for a kiddie horror comedy verges on creative insanity.
It’s crazy enough that it just might work, and brilliantly, we might add.
“ParaNorman” follows an outcast lad (“Let Me In’s” Kodi Smit-McPhee) with the power to chat with the deceased. That comes in handy whenever Norman’s grandma has something to say, but it’s hardly the kind of power to endear him to his fellow classmates.
When Norman’s wacky uncle (John Goodman) kicks, the man’s ethereal spirit warns Norman of an ancient witch’s curse haunting their cozy hamlet known as Blithe Hollow. Only Norman can save the town, assuming he can survive the taunting of the local bully (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and his dimwitted sis (Anna Kendrick).
“ParaNorman” looks like a kiddie movie, but its mature sense of humor and genuine frights make it an odd choice for the whole family. It’s legitimately spooky, featuring the kind of horror movie shocks we expect from zombie fare. The animation, be it the sight gags or the zombie invasion, reminds us what wonders can be accomplished through stop-motion wizardry.
The film’s score pay such note-perfect homage to ’80s horror films you’ll wonder when the film will drop Norman’s story and bring out that old-school gore.
The character design and vocal performances are stellar, bringing texture and humanity to a story that could easily be a mindless shock fest. Norman isn’t your standard bully target. He’s made of tougher stuff than most outcasts, and his quirky parents (Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann) help us understand why Norman is both weird and oddly well adjusted.
“ParaNorman” wheezes and coughs its way to the final scenes, the movie’s acid wit wilting under the need to tie up loose ends.
Until then, “ParaNorman” is a singular delight, even if it will leave some members of its target audience clutching at their bed covers for the next few nights.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies