From the makers of Coraline comes the story of Norman, a boy who must use his special powers to save his town from a centuries-old curse. In addition to spooky zombies, he'll also have to take on unpredictable ghosts, wily witches and, worst, of all, clueless grown-ups. But this young ghoul whisperer will soon find his paranormal activities pushed to their otherworldly limits. Featuring the voice talents of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin and John Goodman, it's a frightfully funny tale for the whole family.
Norman sees dead people. Heard that one before, right? The good news is that even though the cultural reference that entered our collective consciousness way back with The Sixth Sense is the conceptual spark, it's not a clichéd mark against ParaNorman. Neither is it some psychodramatic plot twist in this charming and ingenious stop-motion animated kids' story about a little boy who shares the world with the ghosts who are living all around him. The paranormal stuff is just a part of everyday life for sensitive, lonely Norman and it doesn't freak him out one bit. It started when his grandmother died and she decided to stick around for him. Even though his parents and teenage sister think it's a little weird that he believes she's still living with them, nothing could be more normal for Norman. But she's not the only one whose spirit is still roaming. Everywhere he goes, Norman makes friends and talks with the ghosts who float about all over the place, which not surprisingly makes him seem a little weird to all the other kids at school. Fortunately Norman makes friends with another living misfit named Neil, who believes in his unusual gift and remains a staunch sidekick even after the whole town is threatened by an ancient curse. It's this aged secret that turns out to be the cause for all the restless souls strolling around in the first place. The plot thickens considerably when the founding fathers rise from their graves as zombies (who everyone can see), and it falls to Norman to set things right. The threat they carry harks back to a centuries-old witch-hunt that put a harmless little girl named Aggie on trial by the tribunal now wandering around town in varying states of decrepitude and still cursed by their misdeed. The whole thing turns into a pretty intense piece of haunted horrors, with the burden falling on Norman to release Aggie's innocent spirit and send the zombies back to their graves before the town succumbs to her very real supernatural wrath. The action may get a little too scary for littler kids. There's lots of fire and brimstone, and even though the zombie antics are played for laughs, some of the characterizations border on the genuinely gruesome. But the style is wonderfully sophisticated (it comes from the company that produced Coraline), with terrifically anthropomorphized renderings of human and ghost/zombie figures alike. Everything feels wickedly baroque and shot through with a sustained creepiness that is kept mostly at bay with a script that packs plenty of gags. The voice performances are lively and vibrant, with a cast that includes John Goodman, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, and Elaine Stritch. When Norman faces off with Aggie in the dark and stormy finale, some children may be holding on to Mom and Dad tight (and they may be holding back), which is ultimately to ParaNorman's credit. Just as much credit goes to the fact that the story and design direction allows for the laughs to balance out the frights for both the parents and the kids. --Ted Fry