ParaNorman Review
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Halloween may still be a couple of months away, but if your family is in the mood for a ghoulishly good time, you’re sure to get plenty of undead amusement—and a few nightmare-inducing scares—from the ghosts and zombies and unlikely heroes of ParaNorman.

ParaNorman tells the silly/spooky story of Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), an odd little boy who’s an outcast in the small town of Blithe Hollow because of his strange ability to talk to the dead. He’s bullied at school and derided at home—and the only living person who isn’t embarrassed to be seen with him is the school’s fat kid, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi).

As Blithe Hollow prepares to celebrate the 300th anniversary of its famous witch trial, though, trouble is brewing. The witch’s curse is about to unleash a band of pilgrim zombies on the unsuspecting townspeople—and Norman’s paranormal abilities make him the only one who can stop the zombies and end the curse once and for all.

From the opening scene of ParaNorman—a cheesy B-movie parody—you’ll know that you’re in for a comically creepy treat. It may be an animated movie, but it mixes horror and humor in a way that would make Edgar Wright proud.

The characters give this eerie adventure plenty of charm. Norman is a lovably awkward hero—an apprehensive young oddball who learns to embrace the things that make him odd. Even more lovable, though, is his pudgy pal, Neil. He may not be the brightest bulb, but his relentlessly cheerful attitude makes him an endearing sidekick.

But ParaNorman isn’t a pretty animated movie. It doesn’t have the clean, vibrant artwork of, say, a Pixar movie. Instead, it’s intentionally grungy and a little grotesque, with sinister settings and exaggerated characters that are often downright ugly (and not just the zombies, either!). Still, the animation perfectly suits the film’s pitch-black sense of humor, which manages to find the funny side of everything from dead grandmas to roadkill.

Kids will appreciate the slapstick silliness of the wild and crazy supernatural action, but the writing is also remarkably clever, with playful puns and horror movie references targeted toward older members of the audience. Sure, it’s all rather twisted, but it’s filled with so many demented little surprises that you might find yourself missing whole lines of dialogue, drowned out by laughter.

The film does have just a couple of dramatic scenes that drag a bit, but its greatest challenge is that it doesn’t really have a clear audience. It looks like a fun kids’ movie—and, for the most part, it does a decent job of balancing the creepy parts and the comical parts. But it has some pretty scary scenes—especially toward the end of the film—that will most likely give younger viewers nightmares. Really, much of the movie seems to be aimed at an older audience—though the horror-loving fanboys who would truly appreciate the action and humor are likely to shy away from what looks like just another silly movie for kids.

Of course, if your kids aren’t afraid of rotting zombies, feel free to take the family out for a fun night of wit and witches. But you might be better off leaving the kids at home with a babysitter and a pile of fluffy Disney fairy tales.

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