Susan Granger's review of "ParaNorman"
Published 2:30 pm, Friday, August 24, 2012
Let me get right to the point: 11-year-old Norman Babcock sees dead people. When his mother tells him, "Your grandma is in a better place now," Norman knows different: "She's right in the living room."
This macabre, stop-motion animated feature is about an adolescent medium's morbid "Sixth Sense" encounters with ghosts, ghouls, zombies and other ectoplasms who have unfinished business. Voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee, Norman, distinguished by his spiky, Eraserhead-like hair, is undoubtedly odd. Not only is he watched over by his deceased grandma (voiced by Elaine Stritch) but he also has to cope with his incredulous mother (voiced by Leslie Mann), disapproving father (voiced by Jeff Farlin) and bubble-gum snapping teenage sister, Courtney (voiced by Anna Kendrick). At middle school, where he's mercilessly tormented by a bully, Alvin (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Norman's only confidantes are his chubby classmate Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi) and his dumb-jock brother, Mitch (voiced by Casey Affleck).
Raised in Blithe Hollow, Mass., inquisitive Norman researches the legend of the New England witch who was killed there 300 years ago. But only he knows that her spirit is restless and, according to his deranged, psychic uncle Prenderghast (voiced by John Goodman), she's about to bring the dead back to life. No one will believe Norman -- even when he interrupts the school play, screaming, "The dead are coming!" Until, suddenly, a bunch of decaying bodies begins to haunt the town - and only Norman can reverse the witch's curse.
Wittily written by Chris Butler and directed by Sam Fell ("The Tale of Despereaux," "Flushed Away"), it's cleverly animated at LAIKA by the same British stop-motion designers and artists who made the Oscar-nominated "Coraline" (2009), and effectively augmented by Jon Brion's creepy score.
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As a protective parent, it's up to you to decide when and if your youngster should see this eerily gruesome horror/comedy, which culminates in an intense climax. While it's rated PG, I'd consider it PG-10.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "ParaNorman" is a spooky 7, screening in both 2D and 3D.