- Movie Rating -

ParaNorman (2012)

| August 18, 2012 | 0 Comments

ParaNorman is an odd and unsatisfying animated adventure that is probably too scary for little kids and definitely too frustrating and uneven for adults. It has a strange tone that shifts back and forth between slapstick comedy and deep solemn melodrama until eventually the melodrama takes over and we arrive at an overlong climactic scene that is dark and depressing. This is a kid’s movie, right?

The movie has a promising beginning. It takes place in the small town of Blithe Hollow, a centuries-old berg that, back in the 17th century, was the site of its own version of The Salem Witch Trials. Back then a little girl named Agatha was brought before a kangaroo court on a flimsy accusation that she was practicing witchcraft and was sentenced to death. Upon her death she put a curse on the town that the dead would rise from the grave every year. The cure for the curse is for someone to annually read from a certain book that will lull her restless spirit back to sleep for another year. Four hundred years later, the curse still persists. The present citizenship of Blithe Hollow is not bothered by the legend; in fact, it embraces the story to the point that the entire town has dedicated its very architecture to witches and witch burnings. The town’s welcome sign features a hanging witch along with the words: “Welcome to Blithe Hollow, a great place to hang!”

Within this setting our focus falls on little Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), a spiky-haired ten year-old in whose tiny frame beats a weary heart. Norman is stricken with an unusual ability – he can see dead people. All around him, ghosts wish him good day and he communicates with them freely. The living, especially the adults, don’t believe Norman and think that either A.) He has a dangerously overactive imagination or B.) He’s certifiable. At school, all the kids know about his unusual claim and he finds the word “Freak” scrawled on his locker so regularly that he keeps a bottle of window cleaner stored inside. Early in the film, there is an effective scene that reveals the gravity of Norman’s inner turmoil. We see Norman walking down the street on his way to school; his sad eyes focused on the sidewalk as various ghosts pass him and send greetings. The living people, who can’t see the dead, sneer and point as he walks past.

Norman’s only true friend (among the living) is a portly, optimistic kid named Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) who is also the target of school bullies but doesn’t let them get him down. He is the positive to Norman’s negative, especially in the presence of Alvin, the school’s dimwitted lead bully. They eventually join Norman in his adventure along with his teenage sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and Neil’s idiot jock brother Mitch (Casey Affleck). The adventure begins when Norman is visited by his crazy old Uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman) who informs Norman of the town curse and bestows the curse-altering book upon him. He also drops the bad news that the tome must be read at the site of the witch’s grave by sundown or the dead with rise from the grave.

Needless to say, Norman doesn’t read the book before sundown and the dead start rising from the grave. Panicky townspeople respond with shotguns and pitchforks as Norman struggles to find a way to end the curse. It is about this point that the movie begins to fall apart. The movie should come alive with comic zeal (as promised in the trailer) but it doesn’t. There are a few fun slapstick moments but they are undercut by some terribly sad revelations about the little girl who was hanged all those years ago. As the movie inches toward its climax, the tone of the film waffles back and forth and can’t decide if it is a comedy or a serious melodrama. One minute we’re looking at some comic sight gags, the next minute we are suppose to be touched by something that Norman has discovered about the dead little girl. This leads to a very long and tiresome final act as Norman breaks into the spirit world to talk the angry witch – who glows with a scary yellow light – into recalling the curse. The scene is so serious and so violent (not to mention endless) that little kids may be frightened.

That’s really too bad because the movie opens with a lot of promise. The animation uses stop-motion instead of the standard full-on computer animation (which, admittedly, is getting a little tiresome). The town and the people have an angular, abstract look, almost Tim Burton-esque. They are not crisp and polished. The town of Blithe Hollow is a fascinating place to behold with buildings that jut and lean at odd angles, and trees with leafless branches that reach out like gnarled fingers.

Will kids enjoy it? Probably not the little ones. This is often a scary film that deals not only with zombies, witches, curses, and the occult, but also the dead rising from the grave, and a little dead girl who threatens to wipe the town off the map. Maybe the appropriate age would about around 8 or so. Needless to say, the PG-rating is pretty strong. Then again, it may not be a good movie no matter what age you are. You leave with the feeling that the craft of the movie is commendable, but you wish more effort had gone into the screenplay. The wonderful animation rests at the service of a movie that starts well but ultimately grows dull and joyless.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2012) View IMDB Filed in: Animated, Kids