00:00 August 28, 2012
By: David Vicari
[Courtesy of Focus Features]

The directors of ParaNorman, Chris Butler and Sam Fell, refer to their stop-motion animated horror comedy as "John Hughes meets John Carpenter," and that is pretty dead-on. It's an affectionate and funny spoof of horror movies past.

Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a little boy who can see and speak to the dead. Everyone else thinks he's just a weird kid, including his parents (Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin) and teenage sister (Anna Kendrick). He is often bullied at school by lunkhead Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). However, when a centuries-old curse rears its ugly head, it's up to Norman to save the town.

References of horror movies past comes with the territory, but makes some refreshingly unconventional choices like nods to Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Evil Dead 2 (1987). For example, characters think zombies want to eat their brains, and the witch face that appears in the clouds periodically looks like the embodiment of evil that turned Bruce Campbell's hair white in the second Evil Dead.

ParaNorman stretches its simple story pretty thin, and there are a few lulls, but not many. For the most part, it's a breezy 93-minutes.

What ParaNorman lacks in story, it makes up for in gags and the amazing visuals, particularly the character designs. Even though the physiques of the characters and their facial sculpts are exaggerated, they somehow have a vivid familiarity about them. They seriously look like someone you know.

For all its zaniness, ParaNorman has some effective quiet moments, as well as a thoughtful message about tolerance and forgiveness. The film also has a genuine nostalgia for the days of watching shlock horror movies on the late show. In fact, ParaNorman opens with Norman in the den watching a zombie movie on television. Of course, the ghost of his grandmother is sitting on the couch behind him.

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