dir Chris Butler, Sam Fell
scr Chris Butler
prd Travis Knight, Arianne Sutner
voices Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, John Goodman, Tempestt Bledsoe, Bernard Hill, Jodelle Ferland
release US 17.Aug.12, UK 14.Sep.12
12/US Focus 1h33
Blended family: Norman with Grandma, Mom, Dad and Courtney

smit-mcphee kendrick affleck
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
ParaNorman Like Monster House, this animated feature taps into horror movie history to tell a story that's both genuinely creepy and a lot of fun. Terrific characters and some underlying emotion also bring out some strongly resonant themes.

In the sleepy town of Blithe Hollow, Norman (Smit-McPhee) is an 11-year-old who nobody understands. Because he can speak to ghosts. His parents (Mann and Garlin) dismiss this as a childhood fantasy, his boy-obsessed teen sister (Kendrick) ignores him, and the school bully Alvin (Mintz-Plasse) makes every day a nightmare. No wonder Norman is obsessed with cheesy horror movies. Then his creepy uncle (Goodman) tells him that he's the next in line to keep the town's legendary witch from enacting her curse on the 300th anniversary of her execution.

Avoiding animation design cliches, the filmmakers have created a marvel of stop-motion creativity, creating a series of vividly cinematic settings and filling them with characters who have hilariously distinct features that continually catch us off guard. The level of detail is astounding, as is a willingness to include things that genuinely matter to kids, like vulgarity, grotesque scariness and aspects of human nature we rarely see in movies like this. As a result, the superior voice cast is able to inject their own wit in throwaway gags that are peppered through the dialog.

And aside from looking terrific, complete with some seriously eye-popping action sequences, every scene is laced with thoughtful themes that can be absorbed on a variety of levels. There's an intriguing exploration of bullying, including the legacy it leaves behind. There's a strong sense of generational issues and a provocative message about dealing with fear, plus of course a surprisingly complex running commentary on how we deal with people who aren't quite like ourselves.

But just as important is the fact that the film is hugely entertaining, with riotously funny scenes that are sometimes amusingly grisly. And scary too. Kids may not catch the nuances underneath the lively, colourful story, at least in a conscious way, but they'll definitely get the point that fear is something we should channel into bringing out our strengths rather than taking it out on people we can't be bothered to understand.

cert pg themes, grisliness, language 19.Aug.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall