ParaNorman (2012) — A stop-motion awkward fright-fest

“I’d Google this myself if there wasn’t a 300-year-old dead guy trying to rip my face off!”

Justin’s rating: I see dead claymation people!

Justin’s review: Upon a cursory glance at ParaNorman, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is merely one of the flood of CGI kiddie flicks that have saturated the market. You’d be wrong on two points: It’s stop-motion, not CGI, and it’s very much a dark comedy not suitable for little kids. Well, not well-adjusted little kids, in any case.

Poor Norman suffers from what we’ll call Sixth Sense Syndrome (SSS), which means that he can see and talk to dead people. You’d think that would stop him from growing up to be a normal and likable kid… and that’s exactly the case. By openly talking about his gift to everyone, including chatting with his dead grandma in front of his family, Norman kind of weirds everyone out. What makes him different than similar characters in other TV shows and movies is that Norman is very comfortable with this part of his life. It’s probably why he makes fast friends with Neil, another strange kid who’s quite comfortable with his own obesity and dorkiness.

This is all one thing, but everything gets a whole lot worse when Norman’s uncle Mitch passes away and informs him that it’s now up to this kid to be Blithe Hollow’s protector. You see, his town has one of those ancient witches that wants to raise the dead, yadda yadda, and only people who can see the dead can keep her at bay. This lines up with the frightening visions that Norman’s been getting, but he feels quite overwhelmed at the responsibility.

At least he is joined on his quest to push back the darkness by some other teens and kids, including his boy-crazy sister Courtney, the local bully, and the amazingness that is Neil. Together, they discover that there’s an actual story behind the witch and undead that changes the whole framework of what’s happening.

ParaNorman is a very strange little flick, and I’m not entirely sure if I like it or not. It’s a little bit funny, a little bit freaky, and little bit preachy — but the mix never quite sat right with me. I wanted to get into the Goonies spirit of it all, but Norman’s life is anything but fun. The whole visual style of the movie is off-putting and unnerving, with grotesque character faces and horror-style cinematography, and so I felt like it kept me at arms length rather than invited me in. It looks like a nightmare at times, the sort of nightmare that really wigs you out for hours after you wake up.

On the other hand, there’s an undeniable love and knowledge of B-movie horror going on here that, along with the theme of being a weird loner, that resonated stronger than it should’ve. This isn’t your song-and-dance Nightmare Before Christmas stuff; it’s haunted houses and decaying crypts and flesh falling off maggot-encrusted skulls. It’s the grody bits of Halloween in stop-motion form.

Didja notice?

  • The girl in the fake movie at the start runs out of breath screaming
  • No, grandma, eating brains is NOT very nice
  • Very off-putting character models
  • Spicy hummus is a fearful weapon
  • Toilet ghosts!
  • No matter how bad your day is, at least you didn’t have the tongue of a corpse loll onto your face.
  • Windshield wipers aren’t effective against zombies
  • Sometimes you gotta pick between getting your vending machine snack and running away from zombies

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