As wonderful and pretty as CGI and Pixar animations are, stop-motion animation is the classic animation method that still looks and feels marvellous today, as can be seen in the Laika production ParaNorman. The story of a young boy Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) who has the ability to see and speak with dead people though, because nobody else can see them, he is viewed as an outcast in his town and is constantly shunned by his family who feel they lack the ability to properly raise him.
ParaNorman is a non-traditional tale that feels more real-life than fairy-tale, even despite the presence of zombies, ghosts and a witch that looms over the entire town as they riot through the streets after the undead, for no reason other than because there’s nothing else to do that will fix the end of the world. The collective thoughts of the town as they chase after the zombies adds the touch of seemingly inevitable defeat for Norman as he is the only one able to end the wrath of the witch. This feeling of hopelessness in the face of the crowd feels part-social commentary when considering Norman’s social status. An angry mob out to do the only thing they can do because they themselves don’t have the answers.
Norman is the sensitive type and is unlike most protagonists in other children’s movies as he is consistently considered an outcast throughout the film. When he isn’t bullied in school by Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), he is teased by his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and made to feel ashamed of by his parents (Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin), even his only friend, the similarly-teased and chubby Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) doesn’t take him seriously when needed. While the story has its focus on the situation at hand, the underlying issue is that even when Norman has the means and the answers, he is still ridiculed and that delivers an all-too-real sense of urgency and helplessness to the film. Combined with the ongoing themes of death and regret, ParaNormal has some pretty heavy stuff.
The film delivers a wonderful story with bouts of silliness and comedy, thanks heavily to scenes with Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman) and Sherrif Hooper (Tempestt Bledsoe), touching moments that do almost get too cheesy, and a message regarding the hardships of growing up rarely made to seem so vivid and at-home in animations. There’s no sugar coating. While not everyone will have the opportunity to save the world, ParaNorman makes it a point to show that even the most unconventional of talents can come in handy. It’s a movie with a wonderful delivery, a good storyline and a great take-away message.