Have you ever been made fun of for being different? Well, Norman certainly has and he’s definitely not normal. He’s a boy who sees and talks to ghosts. These ghosts are mostly friendly people who lived long ago and still have some issues. Norman is constantly ostracized and picked on by his school mates for being crazy. His weird paranormal conversations with the dead don’t sit well with his parents either, who think his overactive imagination is creating this strange fantasy life to get more attention.
As it turns out, the town Norman lives in has a dark past and the movie attempts to draw a parallel between actual witch-hunts in the town’s history and the bullying of kids in schools today. The analogy is not without merit and the movie does an excellent job of linking the present with our past; Norman being the link between the two, which only he can see and communicate with.
Norman matter-of-factly acknowledges the ghost he sees and wonders why it’s so difficult for everyone else to believe they exist when they were once beloved people, friends and family from our past. The only person who befriends him, who is not a ghost, is a boy from school who just wants to talk to his recently deceased dog. Some of the funniest parts in the film are when the living folks freak out and become a hysterical mob when they see the dead coming to haunt them.
When he fails to stop an ancient curse from waking the dead, all hell breaks loose, literally, and Norman reluctantly becomes the negotiator between tormented loose-jawed zombies, and the town’s fearful rioting mob. While trying to communicate with the cursed dead folk, he learns about a tragic event from the town’s past that still resonates in Norman’s world today. To save the town from a legacy of fear that haunts them from the past, he eventually finds a way to get through to people’s (dead and living) better natures, resulting in an emotionally touching climax.
Visually there are virtually no straight lines in this film; everything is a little askew including the camera angles, which is in keeping with its creaky creepy tone. This movie would have been better suited for an October release date coinciding with Halloween as the spooky characters are more on the cutesy cartoony side. The stop-motion puppet animation by LAIKA, who also produced Coraline (2009), is wonderfully detailed and richly textured with organic touches that give a feeling of hand crafted art. The visual style is appropriate for children but the story has enough weight to give adults something to think about.
ParaNorman has a great voice cast that includes John Goodman recently from The Artist (2011) and Happy Feet Two (2011), Anna Kendrick from Up in the Air (2009) and 50/50 (2011), Casey Affleck from Gone Baby Gone (2007), The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and Tower Heist (2011) and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Norman, recently from Let Me In (2010) and The Road (2009).