ParaNorman


ParaNorman

Norman has a different kind of homework.

(2012) Animated Feature (Focus) Starring the voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Casey Affleck, Tempestt Bledsoe, Alex Borstein, Jodelle Ferland, John Goodman, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Elaine Stritch, Tucker Albrizzi, Jeff Garlin. Directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler

 

There are those who believe that death brings peace, at long last, for the living. Of course, given what life is like why on earth – or beyond it – should we expect that? Why wouldn’t the afterlife be just as bothersome and as annoying as life is?

For Norman (Smit-McPhee) the current life is plenty bothersome and annoying. He is the weird kid, picked on by bullies like Alvin (Mintz-Plasse), his own exasperated sister Courtney (Kendrick), his mom (Mann) who doesn’t really understand him but tries to, and his dad (Garlin) who doesn’t even try.

See, Norman lives in a New England village called Blithe Hollow (a combination of Blithe Spirits and Sleepy Hollow  – not the first nod to both the film and literature of the spooky) which is famous for executing a witch 300 years earlier. Norman also happens to see dead people. And talk to them. And they, for their part, talk back. In fact, Norman has more friends among the dead than he does the living. His only corporeal friend is Neil (Albrizzi), a rotund but indefatigably cheerful kid who accepts things more or less at face value.

The witch, you see, had managed just before dying to affix a pretty awful curse on the town that had been stemmed off by members of Norman’s family. The latest in the line, an uncle (Goodman) has a bum ticker and is trying to transfer his knowledge to Norman but doesn’t quite make it to the big day. That’s ok; he can talk to Norman anyway.

Norman is tasked with reading from a sacred book in a certain spot. The problem is, Norman doesn’t understand what he’s reading and why it will save the town from being beset by the walking dead. He will have to link up with unlikely allies and fight against some unlikely opponents if he is to save Blithe Hollow from an army (all right, seven) of zombies.

The animation studio that gave us Coraline give us another horror-themed stop-motion animated feature that is as much for adults as it is for kids. Talk about finding your own niche. Still, if you can’t be Aardman (and how many studios really can be) this is a good place to be. Stop motion has an inherent 3D feel to it; there is depth to the faces here, from bags under the eyes of some of the characters to zits to sallow, sunken cheekbones. The movie itself is pretty dark in tone (most of it takes place at dusk or after dark) so the 3D doesn’t help it from that standpoint; still it looks pretty nifty as animated 3D features go.

The voice casting is on the quirky side. McPhee-Smit is best known for the downer action film The Road as well as the winter vampire remake Let Me In. In many ways, he had to carry a good deal of the latter film; he has to do it here vocally and does a pretty fine job of it. He has some pretty good chemistry with Mintz-Plasse and Albrizzi which helps a whole lot.

The writing is clever and lovers of horror films both classic and modern will get a kick out of the many, many references here. Whether it’s Norman being startled by a figure on his front lawn wearing a Jason-like goalie mask only to have it turn out to be Neil who calls out “Wanna play some hockey?” or nods to ghostly thrillers like The Sixth Sense and The Frighteners. However, there were some kids at the screening we went to who were clearly too young to really get the playful tone of the film. Wise parents should exercise caution before taking their kids as some of the situations and imagery is genuinely terrifying.

Still, there are some strong anti-bullying and acceptance of diversity messages here that will resonate with older kids. While the theatrical run is nearly done, this feels like it will be a Halloween kids classic that certainly out-charms and out-smarts fare like the Scooby-Doo movies and more classic TV kidfilms like Monster Mash. There is plenty of heart here and some surprisingly funny moments like Norman’s late grandmother (Stritch) who complains that the afterlife sucks because there is no cable. Having been in some pretty rustic places in the past couple of weeks, I can certainly relate.

REASONS TO GO: Clever and genuine. Lots of homages but doesn’t date itself.

REASONS TO STAY: Sometimes a little too cute for its own good…and a little too terrifying to really nail that core audience it wants.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the imagery is a bit too frightening for the very little. Some of the humor is a little crude as well; in fact, you might want to skip this if your kids are in single digits.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although none of the cursed zombies are referred to by name (except for Judge Hopkins), they all were given names; Eben Hardwick, Thaddeus Blackton, Lemuel Spalding, Amelia Wilcot, Goodie Temper and Wile London.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/17/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100. The reviews are pretty darn good.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Nightmare Before Christmas

JOHN CARPENTER LOVERS: While there are several classic horror films referred to throughout the script either directly or indirectly, the ringtone on Norman’s phone is the iconic theme from Carpenter’s Halloween.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Premium Rush

New Releases for the Week of October 15, 2010


October 13, 2010
It’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!

RED

(Summit) Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Karl Urban, Mary Louise Parker, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, Julian McMahon. Directed by Robert Schwentke

 

A group of retired CIA assassins find themselves targets of their successors. They will need all their cunning and experience in order to stay alive but in order to rid themselves of the great big target on their backs they will need to break into CIA Headquarters, a nearly impossible job and once there they will discover a conspiracy like nothing they’ve ever encountered before.

See the trailer, interviews, promos and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language)

Catfish

(Rogue) Yev Schulman, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, Melody C. Roscher. When a young man falls in love with a woman he met on the Internet, his brother and friend decide to document the long-distance online relationship. When they decide to impulsively visit her, the film veers off into a very disturbing turn. With one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen and a huge amount of buzz coming off the festival circuit, this could be the next Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activities.

See the trailer, an interview and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual references)

I Want Your Money

 (Freestyle) Newt Gingrich, Steve Forbes, Mike Huckabee, Ed Meese. Just to prove that liberal lefties aren’t the only ones who can make political documentaries, here comes Ray Griggs to show you why President Reagan’s policies worked and why President Obama’s won’t. Using a clever mix of archival footage, original animation and interviews with leading conservatives, Griggs aims to show how the government is out to make you broke.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, brief language and smoking)

Jackass 3D

(Paramount) Johnny Knoxville, Bam Magera, Steve-O, Jason “Wee Man” Acuna. As long as there are guys, there will be witless movies about guys doing incredibly stupid and dangerous things for no other reason than that they can. This is a movie that may or may not be better in 3D but one thing’s for certain: it will be a hell of a lot better after six or seven beers.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for male nudity, extremely crude and dangerous stunts throughout, and for language)

N-Secure

(Bluff City) Cordell Moore, Essence Atkins, Denise Boutte, Tempestt Bledsoe. A young urban professional falls from grace when a woman’s betrayal exposes some dark, hidden secrets in his damaged personality. This will lead to a web of deceit, violence and murder.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Thriller

Rating: R (for language, some sexual content and brief violence)

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

(Sony Classics) Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas. The effects of mid-life crises, fear of mortality, fear of failure and stubborn adherence to illusion effects the intersecting lives of several couples in this latest comedy from Woody Allen, with a connecting conceit of a fortune teller/charlatan (hence the title).

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for some language)