Aug 16, 2012

Is it too scary for kids or plain funny for all ages?


Grade: B<?xml:namespace prefix = o />

Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell (Flushed Away)

Screenplay: Butler

Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road), Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air)

Rating: PG

Runtime: 93 min.

by John DeSando


Every zombie convention and almost every sentimental animation lesson are captured in the pleasant and ghoulish ParaNorman, about a little boy, Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who can communicate with the undead as well as deadly adults. Although Tim Burton might envy the comic conventions mixed with the horror tropes, I would recommend it to any sensible youngster 8 years and older. Others may find it too obsessed with death to be considered light.

Norman Babcock’s Sixth-Sense-like ability to communicate with the dead, including his ever-present grandmother (Elaine Stritch), makes him the de facto hero to communicate with these loose-limbed, shabby zombies about a curse related to an 18th century witch hunt that took an little girl’s life, leaving her disgruntled and causing mayhem for 3 centuries. Norman eventually must settle with her on behalf of zombies and humans alike.

The stop-motion animation, from the LAIKA studio artists of the complicated Coraline, is soft in color and angular in faces, is a fine companion to the 3-D, both working to create a life-like but romantic, child-like wonder world.  The opening homage to horror conventions sets a droll British humor that carries throughout the occasionally disgusting and alternately comical attacks.

And when zombies roll, the loose arms can project through the screen without it seeming contrived. The zombie bodies are so disjointed and slack as to need an ambivalent ragdoll appearance to both scare and sooth. I know, I’m making little sense, but the animation is capable of scary and funny at the same time.

If it’s possible for a moment to ignore the technical side, then consider the film’s standard themes of accepting people’s differences and integrating misfits into the mainstream.  Kindness to others dominates the tropes.

A movie this grownup and light-hearted but dark and vengeful may encourage some parents to ban it and others to embrace it—I’m in the latter group.

 John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at

He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel

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