Young Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is troubled. No one in his family will listen to him except his grandmother, and she’s dead. He’s perfectly comfortable nodding hello to all the ghosts hanging around on the sidewalks on his way to school, but once he gets there he turns a nervous shade of pink at the thought of interacting with his real, living peers. To top it all off, he’s being stalked by his very peculiar uncle (John Goodman), in both living and dead forms, as the unkempt relation tries to convince Norman that only he can stop the witch’s curse that threatens to turn his entire town into shuffling stiffs.
It’s an exceptional idea, and in places, ParaNorman (directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell) truly delivers. Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad, Kick-Ass) is perfect as the voice of the bully who gets caught up in Norman’s adventures. Tucker Albrizzi’s (Spooky Buddies) Neil is endearing as Norman’s pudgy, insistent friend who, when Norman tells him he wants to be alone, suggests that they do it together.
Still, somehow this film just doesn’t deliver often enough. It’s hindered by slow, artless pacing, especially in its first half, which moves along at an agonizing zombie-lurch speed until things pick up somewhat in the narrative’s second half. Although there are a number of clever lines, much of the dialogue is dull and many of the sight gags are unimaginative or too easily anticipated. The gaggle of colonial-era undead who lumber through the town chasing Norman and his friends are all of the same color – both literally and figuratively. Many viewers will find themselves longing for the type of inspired idiosyncracies found in the charismatic ghouls of films such as Corpse Bride, on which Chris Butler served as storyboard artist.
Further, this is not really a film for children. Scenes like the one involving some tomfoolery with Norman’s cadaverous uncle will likely leave kids under the age of ten either overly frightened or quite bewildered. The film’s macabre humor will engage adults who already love stories about spooks (though even those fans may be disappointed because we’re so used to seeing such fiends done in such fabulous Burton-esque style), and the animation will interest religious followers of stop-motion fare. Unfortunately, though, it’s not a film that most mainstream family audiences are likely to enjoy very much.
Final Verdict: While ParaNorman occasionally does justice to its engaging premise, its tedious pacing and monotonous monsters render this film more dead than undead.