Chris Butler has left the realm of storyboarding and character design for the dimension of writing and directing. And if there is one thing the horror-film industry didn't need, it's another brainless (pun intended) zombie movie... but Chris Butler definitely injected some IQ into this film. ParaNorman shines despite its macabre, decomposing theme and delivers a deeper message under the blood, guts, and gore!
Once the pinnacle and preferred way to do special effects, stop-motion films are becoming somewhat of a rarity these days. Even the producers of Wallace & Gromit decided to abandon the painstaking work of stop motion for the speed and control offered by CGI, but ParaNorman not only retains the efforts of stop-motion animation, it raises the bar on what can be done in stop motion production (no doubt aided by the blending of CGI with the raw stop-motion footage).
The characters in ParaNorman (including Norman himself) are the sereotypical American small-town folk that we have all come to know so well from American movies. Though, there is sincerity and precision in each character's personality that makes these clay puppets feel like real people. From the literature & drama teacher to Norman and his companions, every character feels believably real in personality and performance.
Norman is the freak of the town because he sees and talks to ghosts. He is surrounded by a trailor-trash-esque family and townsfolk, who are all malcontent with his unique gift and resultant behaviour.
It seems the only people who notice and interact with Norman in a positive manner are the dead. Stereotypically, Norman is a loner at school and is relentlessly teased by his peers. He makes friends with a fat kid whom himself is ostracised at school, and shortly thereafter, Norman is forced to take responsibility for a heinous act in the past.
As with most haunted towns, there is something not right in the past. The movie throws back to the infamous Salem witch trials which saw the torture and execution of innocent people for the crime of being 'witches and wizards.' This puritanical practice, of course, owes its existence in the history books to religion. Needless to say, vengeance and revenge will be exacted from beyond the grave and the guilty will be made to suffer for their past injustices!
You may mistakenly think that due to his affinity with the paranormal, Norman will bloom into some hero and save the day. In fact, Norman is more like the Sam Witwicky of Transformers 2, in that he really does not want to be the hero but ultimately gets forced into the role because everyone around him is too stupid to play the part.
The unfolding of the plot is not so much aided by the story as it is by the masterful style in which characters and environments of ParaNorman are rendered. There is some serious attention to detailed paid to every set, and the atmosphere is fittingly dark and creepy. I've not seen a thriller that truly feels the part since the classic horror/thriller films of the 1980s, such as Pet Cemetery, Phantasm, and Poltergeist...
ParaNorman ultimately shows us that monsters are not always the decomposing dead, but, sometimes, they are our neighbours, colleagues, and even family and friends. We get to see the modern-day version of the mindless mob that will pitchfork and barn-lantern everything at which someone yells, "Get em!" In the end though, courage is found from everyone including the dumb mallrat to the school bully. It definitely is a unique twist for the genre and made the movie more profound than other mindless zombie films.
Personally, I won't call ParaNorman a children's movie, despite the stop motion / CGI format; it's way too deep, dark and thought-provoking to be passed off as adolescent entertainment. This is no Over the Hedge, Madagascar, or Toy Story.
ParaNorman is a classic zombie thriller that throws the audience a curveball and delivers a profound message which, unfortunately, will be beyond the comprehension of young (and even some mature) viewers. The film is materfully styled and themed to deliver plenty of atmosphere to go with the story. This is one movie you will feel as much as you see it.
ParaNorman is definitely worth your time and coin!
8/10 - ParaNorman will definitely be making it to my Blu-Ray collection soon!