The first thing to be said about Laika Studio’s (the producers of the fabulous Coraline) new rated PG stop motion feature ParaNorman is that the release date feels a bit off. Family friendly spooky fare feels like it should be out in October for parents desperate to find Halloween activities for their kids that keep them off the streets. But either Laika Studio didn’t want to compete with the upcoming Hotel Transylvania and Frankenweenie or they were betting parents were desperate for something to see in the dog days of August with their offspring in a nice air-conditioned setting. This is the first picture for Chris Butler to direct though he was part of the Art Team for Coraline and Corpse Bride and the influence is visible.
The titular character of ParaNorman, is Norman, (voiced by Kodi Smith-McPhee) an eleven year old who happens to speak to ghosts turning him into the town outcast. He’s contacted by his crazy uncle (John Goodman) who informs him he has to save the town on the 300th anniversary of the execution of a local witch. Other voices for the story include Anna Kendrick as Norman’s Barbie-like older sister, Casey Affleck in the obligatory jock role (with an amusing and progressive surprise), and Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin as Norman’s worried parents. This plotline at first feels very reminiscent of 70’s horror films and so the does the movie’s visual tableau. They throw in a number of inside jokes referencing classic horror from Friday the 13th to Halloween. Most of these references will fly over children’s heads—or at least you would hope they would. After all given that kids in the audience were telling their parents they were scared during ParaNorman’s bloodless frights, I would hate to think how they’d react to the grown-up stuff.
The film’s a little slow moving for the first half and, as noted, a lot of the humor goes over children’s heads. (The movie is available in 3D but while the stop motion is lovely on screen there’s nothing in this feature that necessitates the 3D experience). The second half is a lot more lively and features a delicious plot twist that makes the whole film seem far more daring and unique. It’s not as good as Coraline, Monster House, or Curse of the Were Rabbit (which would be my picks for a Family Halloween Rental Night), but if you’re looking for something appropriate to take any younglings to this weekend ParaNorman will certainly suffice. Let’s just hope they’re not easily spooked by zombies.