If you haven’t seen 2009’s Coraline, you might be more inclined to surrender yourself to the macabre charm of ParaNorman. Both films, works of stop-motion animation by the Oregon-based Laika company, share much in common: an outcast protagonist, ineffectual grown-ups, visually stunning riffs on the supernatural.
But while Coraline sustained a masterful level of Grimm-like creepiness, ParaNorman is only fitfully brilliant.
The premise is promising. Eleven-year-old Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee, Let Me In) has a familiar problem: He sees dead people. Lots of ’em, actually, which makes him something of a pariah in the hamlet of Blithe Hollow, Mass. His only pal is Neil (Tucker Albrizzi, TV’s Good Luck Charlie), a chubby kid who isn’t thrown off by Norman’s frequent conversations with the dearly departed.
Boasting a casket full of horror-flick references, ParaNorman tosses its prepubescent hero into some mumbo-jumbo about the town being cursed by an 18th-century witch, and Norman being the only one to stop it. The escalating dread fuels some wonderfully grotesque sight gags involving decaying zombies and sundry stubborn corpses, and Jon Brion’s music score adds beautifully to the weirdness.
The script proves less successful.
ParaNorman conjures up mood galore, but the script by Chris Butler, who directs here with Sam Fell (The Tale of Despereaux), settles for thin characterization and a storyline that seems like a patchwork of other movies. Lovely animation and strong voice work — from the likes of Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Anna Kendrick and John Goodman — almost makes you forget you’ve seen this all before.
One final note, parents: Don’t be lulled by the PG rating. Some scenes might be a bit too scary for the smallest moviegoers.