Zombies and humor
Published: Monday, August 27, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 22:08
A misunderstood 11-year-old who can see and talk to ghosts emerges as the unlikely hero in “ParaNorman,” a new stop-motion animated feature from the studio that made “Coraline.”
Norman, voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee (“Let Me In”), lives in Blithe Hollow, a small New England town with a history of witch hunts. He is obsessed with zombie movies, games and posters. He can also communicate with ghosts, which no one else can do. As a result, his parents and teenage sister Courtney, voiced by Anna Kendrick, (“Up in the Air”), do not believe him. The other kids at school pick on him, and his only friend is overweight misfit Neil, voiced by Tucker Abrizzi (“Big Time Rush”). The ghosts warn Norman that the town has been cursed by a witch. It is up to Norman to break the curse, or else a plague of zombies will be unleashed on Blithe Hollow. Needless to say, things go wrong.
The film is a fast paced mix of humor, zombie attacks and horror-movie homage. The look of “ParaNorman” creates a creepy atmosphere. The zombies look fierce and menacing, the graveyard Norman visits when he tries to break the curse is visually gross, and the big showdown with the witch seems genuinely scary. While the film has no explicit blood and gore, parents should keep in mind that some of these elements may frighten or disturb very young children.
As for the script, it is merely okay. In one scene, Courtney says, “Not believing in an afterlife is like not believing in astrology.” The humor does not work all of the time. Some of the intended funny bits come almost entirely from crude jokes, dumb puns and silly dialog rather than from situations at hand. Sometimes it seems as though the film’s scriptwriters were too busy trying to toss off of one-liners rather than refining the dialog.
The story is also filled with broad stereotypes. For example, Courtney is a dumb blonde cheerleader. Neil’s brother Mitch, voiced by Casey Affleck (“Gone Baby Gone”), is a high school jock with his brains in his biceps. It would have been nice to see more than one or two characters that were not lacking in the brains department. Norman’s dad is also a stereotype, the stern man who does not understand his son. Would it be too much to ask to have a dad in a kid’s movie that was not a jerk, just for once?
On the other hand, the movie does have some positive messages to send without hitting the audience over the head. Norman does not let bullies get to him; he knows he is a better person than others think. Finally, a group of very different kids ends up working together when the need arises. Neil, Courtney, Mitch and mean kid Alvin, voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Superbad”) all surprisingly come to Norman’s defense when he is confronted by an angry mob blaming him for the zombies being unleashed.
“ParaNorman” could have benefitted from a stronger script and a lesser emphasis on dumb humor, but, it is also good-natured and fun film with a likeable, unlikely hero.
“ParaNorman” receives a 3 out of 5 stars.