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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 8.33%
Just Average: 0%
Pretty Crappy: 8.33%
Sucks: 8.33%

1 review, 6 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Kids Revive The Darndest Things"
5 stars

Even in a summer season that hasn't been as filled with as many cinematic disappointments and duds as this one, the month of August is generally a listless time for moviegoing--all the eagerly anticipated blockbusters have long since played out and the new releases tend to mostly be stuff designed to pop up a grab a quick buck or two before fading from view and memory. However, the bright side is that there is usually at least one film that comes along during this time that stands in blessed relief to all the new junk and aging holdovers and helps to save the month--and sometimes the entire season--from complete disposability. This summer, that film is "Paranorman," a 3-D stop-motion animated movie so utterly charming and entertaining, despite its admittedly ghoulish subject matter, that to simply call it one of the best films of the summer would be a gross understatement, especially considering the general quality of what has been turning up at the multiplex in the last couple of months. Put it this way--even if it had come out during the summer of 1982, that still-unbelievable period that gave us "E.T.," "Blade Runner," "The Thing," "Star Trek II," "Tron," "Conan the Barbarian," "Poltergeist" and "Megaforce," it would still have been considered one of the very best of the bunch.

Our hero is Norman Babcock (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young boy whose fascination with the macabre--largely in the form of trashy zombie movies and the like--confuses his well-meaning mom (Leslie Mann), annoys his gruff dad (Jeff Garlin), embarrasses older sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and makes him the target of class bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). In other words, he is just like any number of boys that you and I might have known (or been) over the years with one key difference--Norman has the unexplained ability to see and talk to ghosts. This might seem terrifying but for the most part, these spirits are benign and he gets to spend more time with his beloved and recently deceased grandmother (Elain Stritch) Of course, no one in his small New England town, a tourist trap that is centered around a long-ago event in which a real witch was captured, tried and executed, believes him and he is further ostracized as a result by everyone except Neil(Tucker Albrizzi), another outcast classmate who more or less assigns himself the role of Norman's best (and only) friend, whether he wants one or not.

Eternal outsider Norman finds himself thrust into the spotlight when he is approached by the town weirdo (John Goodman), a man who reveals that he has a very special and secret connection with the boy involving his powers. More importantly, he informs Norman that the entire town is under a curse dating back to that old witch and her execution and that he is the only person who can prevent the town from being overrun by zombies. Accompanied willingly by Neil and not so much by Courtney, Alvin and Neil's older jock brother (Casey Affleck), Norman tries to stop the invasion of the undead but is unsuccessful in his efforts. Nevertheless, he continues to try to break the curse and in doing so discovers some shocking secrets involving the town and details of the witch trial that somehow got lost in the mists of time. Meanwhile, the dead are shambling through the streets and discovering to their horror that the locals are more than willing to fight back against them.

Besides not being a particularly good year for films in general, 2012 has not exactly been a fertile period in regards to animation; outside of the stray delight like the Miyazaki-produced "The Secret World of Arietty" and the underrated charmer "The Pirates:," most of what has emerged have been sequels and retreads and even the annual Pixar presentation was below their usual standards. However, "Paranorman" happily bucks that particular trend and then some. The film was produced by many of the same people who made the wonderful "Coraline" and it shares many of the same virtues as that previous effort. From a stylistic standpoint, virtually every frame is a delight to behold--the goofy/goopy look utilized for the various supernatural elements is inspired and the use of stop-motion figurines and sets brings a sense of tactility to the proceedings that not even the slickest example of conventional animation can hope to approach. The storyline is straightforward enough for younger kids to follow along with easily enough while containing enough suspense, intrigue and humor to keep the older audience members involved as well. Best of, horror film fanatics will be delighted to discover that co-directors Chris Butler & Sam Fell are clearly hard-core fans of the genre and that this is obviously a loving homage to their gloriously misspent youth--the opening sequence alone (of which I will say nothing except to admonish you to be sure to get to the theater in plenty of time) is enough to have the geek audience practically levitating in their seats out of sheer delight.

At the same time that it is working as a sort of modern-day homage to the suburban-based adventures that Steven Spielberg used to churn out with regularity during the 1980's through his Amblin Entertainment production shingle, there is another level to "Paranorman" that makes it more meaningful than one might expect an animated film about zombies to be. The makers of most animated films these days are content to keep their stories free of complexity or anything beyond the most obvious of moral lessons so as to avoid offending anyone and while that is perfectly fine for the most part, it does sometimes seem as though the filmmakers are missing out on opportunities to tell stories that actually have something of significance to say. Here, amidst all the silliness and ickiness, "Paranorman" also has things to say to its young audience about the dangers of bullying and the need to accept people despite their apparent differences and it does so in a manner that blends in with the breezy tone of the rest of the film without ever coming across as too preachy. As a result, young audiences will come away from the film entertained but as the many used to say, if they aren't careful, they might wind up learning something in the process. (One of these bits supplies one of the film's biggest and most surprising laughs, though I suspect that it will have the people at Fox News choking on their Chik-Fil-A.)

"Paranorman" is a delight on virtually every level--even the 3-D is deployed in a more effective manner than usual this time around--and even if you don't have any kids, it is still well worth checking out. However, because it involves zombies and witches and other figures of fear, some parents may question whether or not it is appropriate for their children. (When "Coraline" came out, for example, there were complaints from some quarters that it was a little too intense for the wee ones.) On the one hand, most of the zombie stuff is more silly than scary and is far closer in terms of grossness to a mouthful of chewed-up food or recitations about great green gobs of grimy, greasy gopher guts than the jaw-dropping (and ripping) explicitness of a George Romero joint. On the other hand, there are some moments, especially in the third act, that are meant to be scary and which could possibly be too much for younger or more sensitive viewers. Obviously I cannot say for sure how your kid might react but I think that as a general baseline, it should be perfectly fine for most kids 8 and up. As for the adults, I am not quite as certain but at least the kids can tell them when they can stop covering their eyes when the scary parts are done.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22506&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/16/12 18:24:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

User Comments

8/01/13 Suzie Williams My kids enjoyed it, but I didn't found it slow and boring. Wouldn't watch it again. 2 stars
2/17/13 Charles Tatum Sometimes predictable, but still enjoyable 4 stars
9/09/12 Carlos Stop-Motion Anime in a Comp-Anime Age? Still needed a script, but it WORKED 5 stars
8/28/12 Sara Me and my friend went to see this and we LOVED it!! 5 stars
8/28/12 Antonia Valenzuela Enjoyed whole movie with my daughter!!! 5 stars
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  17-Aug-2012 (PG)
  DVD: 27-Nov-2012


  DVD: 27-Nov-2012

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