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'Paranorman' brings unique detail to animation (VIDEO)

Norman (Kodi Smit-Mcphee) is a bit of a weird kid. He doesn’t have a lot of friends, his parents don’t quite understand him and he gets picked on a lot. This is probably because he spends most of his time watching old monster movies and talking to his grandma.

Also, his grandma is dead.

Paranorman, a stop-motion film, released Aug. 17, is reminiscent of a ghost story that you would tell around a campfire. It may be spooky and creepy, but it’s undercut with humor and heart, and it also works great as a “my first horror movie,” for kids.

In this film, Norman is an 11-year old boy, with the rather unique ability to see ghosts. This makes him a bit of an outcast at both school and home. Not only is he the target of the school bully, Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), but he also feels unwelcome at home. His father thinks that he’s playing with dark forces. Even his somewhat-understanding mother treats his gift as a mental illness. His only real friends are dead.

One day, he receives a message from his creepy, recently deceased Uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman). You see, 300 years ago, a witch was tried and hung by seven pilgrims in Norman’s town. Before her death, she killed the pilgrims and cast a curse on their souls. Every night on the anniversary of her death, the pilgrims will rise from their graves and, being the living dead and all, attack the townspeople.

Unless, of course, you read from a certain book at the witch’s grave which will keep the curse at bay for a year. However, when Norman goes to the graveyard, he discovers that the book is just a bunch of fairy tales. He is not able to finish reading it before the seven pilgrims burst from their graves and start attacking the town.

This is where the film turns into a zombie movie and a pretty entertaining one, at that. I felt that the movie did a great job at making the undead simultaneously threatening and funny. They may want to eat your brains, but they don’t want to be jerks about it.

I also really appreciated the way the characters react to the situation, as they all have their own way of dealing with the fact that zombies are attacking their town. The school bully just wants to be the cool guy, while Norman’s ditzy sister, Courtney (Anna Kendrick), feels the need to scream at everything going on as if she walked out of a ’50s horror movie.

I also quite appreciated the heart at the center of the film. The movie has a great anti-bullying message; sometimes the thing that makes a kid weird is the thing that makes him/her useful.

The film is also gorgeous. The stop-motion style of the animation gives everything a nice, almost diorama-like look, and the characters (especially the zombies), look like if a child’s sketches came to life. In short, the film is jaw-droppingly beautiful and should be experienced almost for that reason alone.

The music is fantastic, as well. It has an ’80s, synthesized style that reminded me a lot of early John Carpenter.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t bring up the quality of the voice acting, which is fantastic across the board. Mcphee is particularly great as Norman. He gives the character a sense of realism not typically found in an animated film.

Not all is perfect, though. For having the intent of being a horror comedy, a lot of the jokes fall flat. Also, some of the characters feel too much like caricatures. I know that it is an animated movie, but given some of the directions that the story goes in, I kind of wish they had gotten a bit more realism out of the supporting cast. However, none of that should keep you from seeing this movie.

When the credits rolled at the end of Paranorman, I stood up and clapped. Movies just aren’t made with this kind of care anymore, and that alone is something to applaud.

Paranorman is rated PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language, runs at 93 minutes, and is playing at most local theaters.

Editor’s note: Caution, this movie contains mentions of “dark forces” as mentioned above, including Ouija boards, orbs, etc.

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