Kids love being scared.
Kids love being
scared. Whether it’s dark fairy
tales, monsters, ghost trains or scary movies, there’s few pleasures sweeter
than that delicious shiver of juvenile terror. Why else did a generation grow up watching Doctor Who’s exploits from behind the
sofa? Yet it’s rare these days,
when parents wrap their little darlings in cotton wool, for a kids movie to be
scary. So it’s refreshing that Chris Butler and Sam Fell’s ParaNorman,
the new stop-motion film from animation studio Laika (makers of Coraline),
sets out to be spooky, scary fun.
Every school has a weird kid and in the New England town of Blithe
Hollow it’s 11-year-old Norman (Kodi
Smit-McPhee). We first meet
Norman sat watching a zombie movie with his Grandma (Elaine Stritch). The
only problem is Grandma’s a ghost and only Norman can see her. You see, Norman sees dead people and
spends most of his day chatting with them, a habit that marks him out as an
outcast and makes him the prime target for school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who makes his
days a living hell.
But, as the town celebrates the 300th anniversary of the
local evil witch’s execution, Norman starts experiencing weird hallucinations,
the ghost of his recently deceased uncle (John
Goodman) appears to him in the school loo full of dire warnings and a
plague of Puritan zombies is unleashed on the town. The witch is out for revenge and as chaos engulfs Blithe
Hollow, it’s up to Norman and an unlikely band of misfits to stop the witch’s
ghost and save the town.
Drawing on the likes of The
Goonies, The Monster Squad and Scooby
Doo while subtly referencing some classic horror flicks (Night Of The Living Dead, The Evil Dead,
Halloween, Friday The 13th), ParaNorman is joyously creepy, knockabout fun. Beautifully, painstakingly animated and
incredibly detailed, it’s a classic outsider tale in which the weird kid saves
the day. It’s a kids movie which
never patronises its young audience and unlike most big animation features
never panders to the sensibilities of sensitive parents. There’s some fantastic, gross-out,
slapstick moments and some edge-of-the-seat action that’ll have kids screaming
with delight and terror.
The performances are fun with Tucker
Albrizzi as Norman’s chunky, endlessly optimistic friend Neil and Casey Affleck as Neil’s older, lunkhead
brother Mitch both particularly good while Broadway veteran Elaine Stritch,
John Goodman and Bernard Hill (as
the zombie Puritan Judge) provide strong support. But what sets ParaNorman
apart is the genuine streak of melancholy at its heart. The horrors Norman faces aren’t the
ghosts he sees or the shambling zombies the witch unleashes; it’s the bullies
who torment him, the sister who ignores him, the parents who don’t understand
him. Without being overly preachy,
the film is a plea for tolerance, for understanding, to embrace the weird and
the different and the final revelation of the witch’s identity and how she died
is a stunning masterstroke.
Visually inventive, smart and funny, ParaNorman is a spooky pleasure that really should be coming out
closer to Hallowe’en.