August 30, 2012

MOVIES: ParaNorman (Chris Butler & Sam Fell, 2012)

The story of ParaNorman is admittedly not particularly original -- it's a sort of hodgepodge of adolescent misfit story, zombie flick, The Sixth Sense, and The Crucible -- but the stop-motion animation is gorgeous and the voice cast is superb.

Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an 11-year-old who doesn't quite fit in with anyone, in large part because everyone thinks he's crazy, which tends to happen when you're the only kid in town who can see (and talk to) ghosts. Given the history of the town's founding, which involves a witch's curse, you might think people would be a little more accepting, but that history has mostly been kitsch-ified and turned into a colorful way to attract tourists.

But it turns out that the curse is real, and when Norman's uncle dies, his ghost (John Goodman) explains to Norman that it's now his responsibility to keep the curse at bay. Things go wrong, of course, and before you know it, the town is being overrun by zombies (well, OK, maybe seven zombies doesn't count as "overrun") and the witch is threatening to destroy the place entirely.

The voice cast is impeccable, and a lot of them are playing against type. Elaine Stritch is the sweet-natured ghost of Norman's grandmother; Anna Kendrick is his boy-crazed sister; Christopher Mintz-Plasse is the school bully; Casey Affleck is a teenaged bodybuilder (and that character is a spectacular creation, sort of a male Barbie doll, balancing massive pecs over a twig-like waist).

The animation is beautiful, featuring the most expressive faces I've ever seen in stop-motion. There are some genuinely scary moments as Norman and his Scooby Gang race through the night to find the solution, and the ominous storm clouds that form as the witch's power grows are spectacular.

True, the story is a bit familiar (though it will be less so to the kids in the audience), but it's told in entertaining style and with a touch of wit, and the quality of the film-making was more than enough to keep me happy.

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