The animation is wonderful, but I simply cannot find it in myself to take much enjoyment out of the films the animators at Laika deliver. Like Coraline, ParaNorman is a plodding drag surrounded by some of the most stunning stop-motion animation you’re going to see. The humor largely falls flat and grows increasingly redundant as the characters do very little to emote any kind of convincing feelings as the film frequently stops and telegraphs every coming moment — “Now this will be harrowing, and this will make you laugh and this will make you feel sad.” Sorry, it accomplished none of that. I take that back… I did laugh, but it was merely minor chuckles in an attempt to enjoy my time more than I actually was.
ParaNorman gives off the same vibe as similarly themed, darkly comic stop motion animated films from the scraggly trees, crooked rooftops and forlorn faces and desolate eyes of the inhabitants of the small town in which it takes place. Here we meet Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young boy that can see and talk to the dead. Problem is, his parents don’t believe him and treat him like trash, his sister treats him like he’s lower than the family dog and he has no friends at school. Go figure, we’re already off to a rousing start of originality.
Even when confronted with someone that wants to be his friend in the form of the equally outcast Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi), Norman shuns him. “I like to be alone,” says Norman, but Neil doesn’t give up so easy, fascinated by Norman’s “talent” and simply looking for someone to be his friend. Good luck Neil.
The narrative begins to take shape when Norman learns of the town’s dark secret involving a witch and a yearly ritual that prevents her from returning and re-animating the dead. If you’ve seen the trailer you know something goes wrong, the dead begin to rise and zombie jokes and mayhem ensue. Some of it is mildly amusing, but it’s the delivery that left me cold.
There never seems to be much energy to the piece as things frequently stop and start in an effort to deliver a punchline followed by a character screaming in surprise. It happens time and again. Even if it were humorous the first time, after the fifth or sixth time the score drops out of a scene cuts to make way for an elementary punchline is just tiresome.
Chris Butler wrote and co-directed the film with Flushed Away and Tales of Despereaux helmer Sam Fell and the lack of inventiveness all around is disappointing. Had it not been for John Goodman voicing Norman’s crazy, ghost-seeing uncle, there wouldn’t have been any life to the picture to speak of.
Looking over the list of names involved in the voice cast, only Goodman and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are recognizable and no one else stood out from the crowd for me to waste time sifting through the credits to learn Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Bernard Hill and Tempest Bledsoe also cashed checks for lending their voices to the production, despite bringing little or nothing to the proceedings.
I can respect wonderful art when it is created. Visually and from a technical level, ParaNorman is a monumental achievement. From the perspective of someone looking to be entertained, however, these 93 minutes couldn’t go by fast enough.