★ ★ ★ ★
Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Tucker Albrizzi and Leslie Mann. Written by Chri Butler. Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell. Produced by Matthew Fried, Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner.
Much like Tim Burton's unforgettable animated feature, Nightmare Before Christmas, Paranorman perfectly captures the eeriness that goes along with autumn, incorporating zombies, witches, ghosts, etc. and thinks outside the box in terms of aesthetic and story. The dark film tells the surprisingly bright story of Norman (Smit-McPhee), the misunderstood young boy who can communicate with the dead and is almost always disappointing his family – his father wants him to quit it with the "limp-wristed hippy garbage" and take a healthy interest in carpentry. Of course, Norman doesn't take his father's advice and lets his curiosity get the best of him, involving him directly with the "curse of the witch" that's haunted the town for years. In the process, he forms unexpected bonds, learns to be himself and ultimately gains perspective and has to face his fears.
Done in brilliant stop-motion animation, this film does dark in an edgy, but family-friendly way – the dense shadowy forests and translucent spirits that line the streets are stylishly scary instead of disturbing. Blithe Hollow, the fictional town full of irregular picket fences and wacky color (which was no doubt inspired by Salem, Massachusetts) serves as the perfect setting with a large witch statue right in the middle of town to represent its haunted history. Music remniscent of an '80s slasher film tops everything off, and combined with the numerous movie references (Norman even has a Halloween ringtone), pays homage to classic cheesy teenage horror – you'll feel like you've just walked through an old-fashioned haunted house.
Paranorman is faithful to its genre and immerses itself in the supernatural, delving into curses and spells, but also pokes fun at some of the cliches which keeps the material fresh without being smug or self-conscious. The class bully, Alvin (Mintz-Plasse) and Norman's best friend, Neil (Albrizzi) add multi-layered humor that parents will laugh at just as hard as their kids. In addition to being clever and thorough, the writing is original, putting a grim spin on the typical coming of age story, choosing to be campy rather than horrifying and managing to send a positive message that doesn't take a moral high ground. —Rebecca Hillary