ParaNorman | Movie review
Adolescence is scarier than the undead in this stop-motion triumph.
John Carpenter’s tinkling Halloween score functions as a child’s ringtone—and that’s far from the first sign you’re watching a sort of Grindhouse-for-the-whole-family. Smuggling classic-movie references into kid-friendly cartoons is nothing new (hello, Robin Williams in Aladdin), but this may be the first time a major animated release has catered its allusions almost exclusively to Fangoria subscribers. Still, for all the retro-thriller affectations—including the synth-y, Romero-worthy throb of Jon Brion’s music—what’s truly marvelous about the stop-motion fantasia ParaNorman is the way it acknowledges adolescence as a daily horror show.
Soulfully voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In, The Road), 11-year-old Norman has Haley Joel Osment issues. Yes, he sees dead people, though most of them are as friendly as Casper. (His deceased grandmother, for example, is now a chatty green cloud that’s settled permanently in front of the boob tube.) Norman’s real problem is that his ghost-whispering ways have made him a town pariah; like Coraline, which was produced by the same animation company, this is a 3-D adventure headlined by an unusually lonely child protagonist.
It’s also a throwback to a bygone era of less-sanitized kiddie fare, when movies of this sort were allowed to be kind of gross, a little scary and even a bit crass. Dense with verbal and visual humor—and, you know, zombies—the madcap ParaNorman builds to a surprisingly moving climax that advocates for letting go of your grudges and forgiving life’s bullies. It’s a vital takeaway for young viewers still battling the monsters of childhood—or for the adults still haunted by them.