Wednesday, 9 January 2013


Universal Pictures
Now Showing

Like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) sees dead people. And the 13-year-old is kind of okay with that. Most of the spectral beings he encounters are a friendly bunch, and his deceased grandmother (Elaine Stritch) is the loveliest of them all. She hangs around to keep an eye on young Norman, hovering above the sofa and watching horror movies with her young grandson.

Of course no one, including his family (mum, dad, and self-obsessed big sister), believes in Norman's conversing with the dead. Nor do his classmates, and school proves to be much more of a nightmare for Norman than the ghosts of neighbours and Blithe Hollow townsfolk long gone. Like in most schools, the odd kid is prone to bullying and isolation, and Norman, a friendless loner, is an obvious target.

But when his estranged, rather weird uncle (John Goodman) informs Norman that a local prophecy involving zombies and a witch's curse is about to take effect and Norman is the only one who can stop it, he becomes the centre of attention; immediately joined in his unwanted quest by Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), the 'fat kid' who not only believes in Norman's gift but is delighted to know that he can play fetch with the ghost of his dead dog (never mind if the stick can't actually be fetched).

Neil's older jock brother, Mitch (Casey Affleck), Norman's sister, Courtney (Anna Kendrick), and Norman's school yard tormentor, Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), also become involved with Norman's mission when the dead start coming back to life and the adult population, gearing up for the annual witch festival (a Blithe Hollow tradition evolving from an unpleasant history), quite easily lose the plot.

Indeed, ParaNorman is a film about bullying and the evils which fear and ignorance breed. Yet it is never heavy-handed. Directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell deploy a deft touch in delivering a message of tolerance and understanding (a positive and no less timely message given the ridiculous response in some quarters to a character reveal late in the film).

Like Frankenweenie, another macabre animation of 2012, ParaNorman is a stop-motion piece although unlike Tim Burton's film, it deploys some CGI in its creation of Norman's world, both the living and the not-so. And while not in black and white, ParaNorman, produced by LAIKA, the team behind the equally macabre Coraline (2009), has a distinct and no less charming visual style. (The 3D may be unnecessary but one has to accept that any animated studio film nowadays is going to be released in that format.)

And like Frankenweenie, ParaNorman tips its hat to horror films of the past. Those references may not register with the youngsters in the audience (who may also get a little scared at times) but will please their older siblings, mum and dad, and anyone else (regardless of age or whether in possession of a child) who wisely chooses to investigate the paraNormanal activities of Norman Babcock.

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