x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

ParaNorman

The kooky ParaNorman unearths none of the usual predictability of animated films.

A scene from the animated film ParaNorman. Courtesy Laika
A scene from the animated film ParaNorman. Courtesy Laika

ParaNorman
Directors: Sam Fell and Chris Butler
Voices: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi
****

Laika, the Californian animation studio behind Coraline, again delves into horror with ParaNorman, a stop-motion family comedy about a young boy named Norman (voiced by Smit-McPhee), an outcast in his town due to his ability to talk to the dead. However, when the dead begin to rise up and attack the town, only Norman and his ragtag group of friends, which include his bratty sister (Anna Kendrick) and an eccentric classmate (Albrizzi), are able to save the day.

ParaNorman achieves something quite unique in the modern family movie marketplace - it takes risks with its audience. While not exactly horrifying, there are moments of mild gore (not to mention the odd dead body) that you may not find in other movies of this nature.

However, given that it is, in essence, a zombie movie, it always feels appropriate and very "cartoonish" - for example, Norman's recently deceased uncle (John Goodman), haunting him in a toilet stall, is spooky and funny in equal measure.

Perhaps another reason it doesn't feel as traumatic is the animation, which is simply wonderful; the small town these characters inhabit comes to life in beautiful detail, with the 3D thankfully serving the plot, rather than distracting from it.

The main strength behind the film, however, is its script: absolutely hilarious, it has laughs for both children and adults, and even manages to squeeze in a rather touching moral at the end of the film.

The flick obviously deals with the subject of death a lot, which at first doesn't sound immediately family-friendly but, thanks to the co-director Chris Butler's screenplay, it is never morbid or traumatising, as everything is interwoven with humour and lightheartedness. Perhaps the best example of this is Norman's grandmother, who stays on Earth as a ghost to look after him (and berate his father).

Smit-McPhee, who rose to prominence in the much more adult drama The Road, is perfect for the voice of Norman, his tender tones complementing Albrizzi's somewhat dopey drawl. The supporting cast is also littered with strong actors: Christopher Mintz-Plasse's cowardly school bully, Casey Affleck's hilariously dim jock and Kendrick channelling her Twilight airhead persona as his sister.

Perfect for children of ages 7 to 12 (although perhaps too scary for very young children), even accompanying adults will find something that makes them chuckle as this lovingly made ode to horror movies unfolds and enthrals.

In a genre where audiences are bombarded with cutesy, predictable animated tales, ParaNorman treats its viewers with respect, and is all the more wonderful for it.