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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

ParaNorman | Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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ParaNorman | Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse | Review

The world is a lot more crowded for Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee, voice).  He can see, hear, and talk to the dead that seem to populate the streets of his small New England town, Blithe Hollow.  His hair refuses to be styled, stubbornly sticking straight up like he is perpetually frightened.  The funny thing is, Norman is nearly fright-proof.

His parents (Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann) think he’s weird because he talks to dearly departed Grandma (Elaine Stritch).  Sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) thinks he’s weird just because he’s her younger brother.  School bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) torments Norman, a loner whose only friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi, voice) is a chubby oddball and an outcast himself.

Norman is approached by his vagabond uncle, Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman) who passes on a legacy to the boy.  In order to save Blithe Hollow from its 300-year-old witch’s curse, Norman must carry on an annual tradition of reading an incantation over the graves of the judge and citizens that condemned the witch.  Norman takes on the task but…

… a mishap occurs, and the graves belch forth zombies of the former town folk.  They seem to want something from Norman and follow him into the town, causing a confrontation with residents.  Meanwhile, Norman searches the Town Hall for information to help him find the witch’s burial place so he can dispel the curse.

Norman, Neil, Courtney,  Alvin, and Neil’s brother, the muscle-bound Mitch (Casey Affleck) embark on an adventure to contain the zombies and the approaching angry spirit of the witch (Jodelle Ferdland), whose identity is discovered during the wildly supernatural events of the night.

Sight gags temper the gruesomeness of the ghouls and one-liners flow as swift as the action.   A mix of the cartoonish, the eerie and the melancholy blend with humor, tragedy and forgiveness.  Kodi Smit-McPhee gives Norman a kind sensitivity.  Anna Kendrick’s Courtney is gleefully, cluelessly superficial, as is Casey Affleck’s muscle-bound Mitch.

Co-directors Chris Butler (a first-time director who also wrote this screenplay and the storyboards for Coraline!) and Sam Fell (Flushed Away) don’t shy away from the grim and the morbid.  Body parts detach, people die.  Younger children might get squeamish, but tweens to adults should appreciate the visuals of the skillful stop-motion animation from Laika Studios.  The fluidity of the characters’ movements (not a jerk in the mix) is eye-poppingly gratifying to observe.

Summoning a dark atmospheric mood (think 2009’s Coraline!) the Laika style works well with the grim, humorous, and sometimes poignant tale.  Although the 3D effect does not greatly enhance the already evocative visuals, it does provide another layer to the quirky eye feast.

Composer Jon Brion incorporates riffs from classic horror films (Halloween, The Exorcist) into his original score to complement the mood and tone.

ParaNorman is a celebration of weirdness and eccentricity and above all, acceptance, proving that the world would be a much better place if someone like Norman represented the norm.

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