With the voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Tucker Albrizzi, Casey Affleck. Written by Chris Butler, Sam Fell. Directed by Chris Butler. Rated PG (for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language). 93 minutes.
Although not for the very young or easily frightened, PARANORMAN is the surprise of this summer’s animation schedule. This tale of ghosts, zombies, witches and one young boy who can talk to them all is funny, engaging, and creatively animated. This is one you might enjoy even without any kids in tow.
Norman (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee) is not a popular kid… at least among the living. See, he has the ability to see ghosts and, as a result, is considered a bit of a freak. Even at home his family thinks he’s odd since he likes to watch TV with Grandma (Elaine Stritch) even though she’s been dead for some time. When his Uncle (John Goodman) dies, he leaves Norman information about a terrible curse that is about to break loose on the New England town of Blithe Hollow, dating back to colonial times when the town fathers executed a young witch. Now those same founders are back – as zombies, of course – and it’s up to Norman to figure out how to set things right.
Done in stop motion animation, the 3D may not be necessary but at least it’s a plus here rather than a useless frill. As things spin out of control, we get the expected message to be kind to the oddballs among us – always helpful – and some unexpected changes in our sympathies. Without giving too much away, those monsters may not be bad guys after all, but simply people who messed up and want to apologize and atone for the terrible wrong they have committed.
Ghosts, zombies and witches are the least of Norman’s problems. There’s also his preening sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), the school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and a horde of townspeople who have a knack for making things worse. Fortunately, Norman’s friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) and his muscle-bound older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) are part of the mix as well. If they’re not always on top of things, at least they try to be helpful. As with the monsters, the human characters turn out not always to be what they initially seem either.
This is the best horror/animation hybrid since the modern classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” There have been pretenders to the throne, like the leaden “Corpse Bride” and oddly disturbing “Coraline” (produced by the same team as “Paranorman”), but this one gets the balance exactly right. It’s creepy, it’s funny and in spite of its weirdness, it resonates with those of us doomed to live our own lives in the real world.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.