Spirited ParaNorman a Ghoulish Delight
In the town of Blithe Hollow, 11-year-old Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) has a gift. Not that it’s one his parents Sandra (Leslie Mann) and Perry (Jeff Garlin) approve of, or something that is teenage sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) finds remotely cool. Only the overly enthusiastic Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) approves, the slightly overweight middle school student nearly as friendless as Norman.
And just what is Norman’s gift? He can see and speak with dead people, communicating with their spirits regularly. Matter of fact, he and his grandmother (Elaine Stritch) spend more time together now that she’s a member of the dearly departed than they did when she was actually alive.
All of this makes the lad something of an outcast. But when his odd uncle Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman) reveals to him that there is sinister truth behind his gift, Norman is both dubious about his claims yet also curious to learn more. See, 300 years prior the town fathers of Blithe Hollow executed a witch, and on the anniversary of her death if those with the gift of speaking to the deceased don’t take action then those responsible will rise from the grave as zombies and wreak havoc against the town’s current residents.
There is a heck of lot going on inside the wickedly inspired ParaNorman, the new stop-motion animated marvel directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell and brought to life by the same studio, Laika, that unleashed Coraline back in 2009. Suffice it to say, the dead do rise from the grave, the executed witch is resurrected and it ends up falling to Norman, Neil, Courtney and a small gaggle of others to try and save the day. But inside that simple premise lies a story of self, a saga of regret, forgiveness, responsibility and love that took me by surprise, this eerily animated wonder an emotional delight that gets even better as it goes along.
Written by Butler, the narrative has a Pixar-level complexity that never rests on its laurels. Nothing is what it seems, the villains aren’t who you think they are and heroics, while flashy and filled with the requisite eye-popping whiz-bang, are of a more intimately delicate nature than one would normally expect from a story such as this. The foundation of Blithe Hollow’s problems are all self-manufactured, all driven out of fear of the unknown and suspicion of anything out of the norm. The moral of this story is universal and, especially in a heated election season filled with double-speak, specious innuendo and outright lies, everyone everywhere could use to listen to.
As for the animation, if you thought Coraline looked ravishing just wait until you take a gander at this. This movie is an eye-popping visual marvel, the filmmakers having a keen attention to detail that’s mindboggling. The filmmakers and animators pay homage to everything from George A. Romero, to the glory days of Hammer, to Tim Burton, Vincent Price, James Whale, Sam Raimi and Stuart Gordon, everything having a picturesque life of its own that’s totally unique yet also still magically echoes numerous old school horror classics of every type imaginable.
Yet the film is still decidedly kid-friendly, never so scary or too adult to make a parent worry that maybe they’ve erred in purchasing their tickets. Norman’s story is one of self-empowerment and confidence that every kid needs to take note of, the idea of learning to embrace the differences of those around us instead of shunning them hopefully an obtainable societal goal all of us should be able to agree with.
There are minor hiccups here and there, and can’t say I completely bought into the idea Norman would be able to convince the chief architect of all of Blithe Hollow’s travails to forgive the wrongs done to her with such apparent ease. But the movie’s heart is pure, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit a few of the climactic images didn’t produce more than their fair share of authentic tears. The brains behind ParaNorman have done a magnificent job giving life to their supernaturally entertaining endeavor, and I didn’t even have to eat them to figure that out.
Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)