Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an outcast who harbours a unique ability: he can talk to the dead. The trouble is, no one besides his unusual friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) believes his claims. That is, however, until his alienated – and quite frankly bonkers – uncle, Mr Prenderghast (John Goodman), burdens him with the task of saving Blithe Hollow’s inhabitants from an age-old witch’s curse and the threat of being overrun by the undead. Norman, with the aid of some unlikely companions, must overcome his own struggles and do what he can to save himself and his fellow townspeople.
At its heart, ParaNorman is a tale of a lonely child who must use his unique powers in order to save those responsible for making him feel excluded and dishonest his entire life. Chris Butler’s screenplay cleverly infuses this surprisingly deep moral foundation with elements of creepy horror, distinctive pop culture references (such influential horror directors as John Carpenter and Alfred Hitchcock are all accredited in their own unique ways) and non-stop uproarious entertainment (car chases are particular highlights) to ensure the tone and overall vibe are both appropriate to children and adult audiences alike.
What’s most striking, though, is that even with all these elements mingling together, the ingenuity of the underlying message remains intact from start to finish. Butler’s perfectly balanced writing style plays a part in this, but it’s mostly noticeable due to the way in which Norman himself is presented as such an honest and likeable character, whose journey mirrors the one experienced by so many that everyone will likely feel a more amplified connection towards him and the lengths he has to reach to achieve a level of appreciation that should be administered effortlessly.
It’s this undeterred, yet compassionate level of attention to detail adopted and cultivated by directors Butler and Sam Fell that benefits ParaNorman the most. It’s not only represented within the screenplay, but also in the animation. The distinctive stop-motion style, along with Tristan Oliver’s cinematography and Nelson Lowry’s sharp-cut and realistic designs, awards Blithe Hollow with an authenticity that not only helps convey the curse which looms over the town in a way that’s comfortable, but also accentuates the difficulty Norman has in fitting in.
The sheer imagination and enthusiasm felt by the directors towards creating an experience that’s so rich in ideas and connotation, yet light and bubbly in nature, runs riot throughout ParaNorman and is witnessed through the abundant visual gags, snappy dialogue and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them tidbits, implanted specifically for those older viewers. It’s perhaps the work of the voice actors (Albrizzi, Goodman and Anna Kendrick as Norman’s arrogant and self-centred sister Courtney, in particular), however, that gives the film its outstanding individualism and inescapably buoyant charm.