When you write about enough movies, as I have, certain words used to describe them end up getting repeated. But then, once in a rare while, a movie comes along that makes me regret any time I ever used that word in the past.
The word here is “gem,” which I know I have used multiple times before, and the movie is “ParaNorman”—a sweet, hilarious, exciting, and all-around spectacular animated film that encapsulates everything the word “gem” entails. It truly is a gem, and I use this word with more gusto than I ever have before. “ParaNorman” is a movie that not only feels new—it is downright invigorating.
The film follows a young boy named Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee)—a social outcast labeled weird and deemed the titular nickname by most citizens of Blithe Hollow, a small, touristy town clearly influenced by the witch-crazy sightseeing of Salem, Massachusetts.
And Norman is weird, but weird is exactly what conquers in a movie such as this. Our protagonist can communicate with the dead, but nobody takes his sixth sense seriously, even his parents (a hilarious voice combination of Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann). But when a centuries-old curse is lifted and unleashed upon the town, it is up to Norman and a delightful band of side characters to save the day.
It’s a straightforward adventure story in many regards, yet “ParaNorman” becomes more and more as it moves along with unrelenting motion from great moment to great moment. It is hilarious, both for kids and adults, and heartfelt in ways that constantly break the boundaries of cliché.
It is frightening and wholly engaging—captivating at times in its effortless capture of youthful innocence and adult ignorance. It takes the idea of “Parents just don’t understand” to a whole new level.
But where this film triumphs most is in its striking, remarkable visual style—quite possibly the premier example of what stop-motion animation can accomplish. It is honestly one of the best films ever made using this medium. With just the right touches of CGI and meticulous stop-motion capturing, “ParaNorman” is a wonder to behold. The leaps and bounds of animation is astounding, and this movie especially signifies a monumental jump forward.
And thanks to its blatant influences, “ParaNorman” pops both visually and thematically with themes of yesteryear—or the 80s, rather. This is a film Steven Spielberg would have made in his Amblin-era, along with “E.T.” and all those other fantastical tales centered on youth, innocence, and often realistic, sometimes dark, undertones.
With the color palette of an Italian horror film and the score, a mixture of strings and synths, an inspired cocktail of Bernard Hermann and John Carpenter, “ParaNorman” offers up an abundance of both influence and invention. It stems from the old, and becomes something entirely new.
Perfect for the family—perfect for anyone, really—“ParaNorman” is one of this year’s biggest surprises. It takes a lot for a film to blow my expectations out of the water such as this one did, but “ParaNorman” had me floored from the beginning. It’s a spooky, fun, lucid dream that I cannot wait to visit again.
Greg Vellante is a film critic for The Eagle Tribune.