Northwestern Press

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Nothing normal about 'ParaNorman'

Wednesday, August 29, 2012 by PAUL WILLISTEIN in Focus

The cleverly-titled "ParaNorman," the new animated feature film, takes a page from the screenplay of "The Sixth Sense" (1991) where a young boy sees ghosts.

You no doubt remember the line: "I see dead people"?

In "ParaNorman," there's doubt among family, middle school classmates and New England towns people about just what Norman sees. Most think he simply has a vivid imagination.

Norman persists, however, and soon, he's scared up seven accusers from the grave who had sent a young girl they believed to be a witch to her doom 300 years ago in 1712.

His classmates pitch in as does the entire town with the requisite pitchforks, torches and whatever else they can lay their hands on including a bowling ball to prevent the walking dead, which now everyone can see, from taking over the town.

"ParaNorman" is filmed in stop-motion animation, whereby a character is molded out of pliable rubber and filmed frame by frame each time the figure is moved. It's a painstaking process.

The main characters in "ParaNorman" are quite adorable. The ghouls are quite scary, in a comical way.

The character voices are excellent, especially the two boys who voice the leads, Kodi Smit-Mcphee as Norman, and Tucker Albrizzi as his friend, Neil.

Anna Kendrick is the voice of Norman's sister, Courtney. Casey Affleck is the voice of another boy, Mitch. Leslie Mann is the voice of Sandra, Norman's mother. Jeff Garlin is the voice of Norman's father Perry. Elaine Stritch is the voice of Norman's Grandma. John Goodman is great as the voice of Mr. Prenderghast.

Directors Chris Butler (storyboard artist, "Coraline," 2009, and "Corpse Bride," 2005) and Sam Fell (director, "The Tale of Despereaux," 2008, and "Flushed Away," 2006) worked from Butler's screenplay, which has lots of humorous jibes, asides, wordplay and physical comedy.

"ParaNorman" utilizes Computer Generated Imagery, and, like so many films nowadays that include special-effects, the film-makers cannot resist going over-the-top, turning scenes into sheer visual spectaculars.

It's as if film-makers don't realize that special effects are a way to get from Point A to Point B and advance the storyline. Special effects are not necessarily an end in and of themselves. It's best to not, as happens too often in "ParaNorman," dwell on the special effects.

At one point in "ParaNorman," the screen goes entirely black. At at least two other points, the screen goes entirely white. Now that's what I call effective use of 3D imagery.

The 3D is most effective in the ghost scenes, where the apparitions trail green clouds and wisps when they move. However, "ParaNorman" doesn't have that many great 3D effects. "ParaNormam" can probably be enjoyed in the regular projection format.

Throughout, "ParaNorman" has anti-bullying as its main theme. In the final 10 minutes or so, the film gets preachy, with Norman spouting platitudes like some latter-day Cotton Mather, but with a New Age mantra.

No, ahem, Mather, "ParaNorman" is, overall, entertaining. Children should especially enjoy the fun. Parents won't be disappointed, either.

"ParaNorman," MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children) for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language; Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror: Run Time: 1 hr., 33 mins.; Distributed by Focus Features.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Stay to the very end, after the final credits of "ParaNorman," for a fast-motion featurette on how the stop-motion character of Norman was, ahem, cast, assembled and filmed.

Box Office, Aug. 24:"The Expendables 2" made it two in a row, with a low $13.5 million, $52.3 million, two weeks, on a lackluster weekend that saw all four top spots unchanged for the second week: 2. "The Bourne Legacy," $9.3 million, $85.5 million, three weeks; 3. "ParaNorman," $8.5 million, $28.2 million, two weeks; 4. "The Campaign," $7.4 million, $64.5 million, three weeks

4. "The Campaign," $13.3 million, $51.6 million, two weeks; 5. "Sparkle," $12 million, opening; 6. "The Dark Knight Rises," $11.1 million, $409.9 million, five weeks; 7. "The Odd Life of Timothy Green," $10.9 million, $15.1 million; 8. "Hope Springs," $9.1 million, $35 million, two weeks; 9. "Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days," $3.8 million, $38.7 million, three weeks; 10. "Total Recall," $3.5 million, $51.7 million, three weeks

Unreel: Aug. 31:

"Lawless," R: A bootlegger gang faces a new deputy in the western drama starring Shia LaBeouf and Guy Pearce.

"The Possession," PG-13: An antique box purchased at a yard sale contains an ancient spirit in the horror thriller starring Kyra Sedgwick.

"For A Good Time, Call," R: Former collegians take an unusual approach to paying the rent on their upscale New York City apartment in the comedy.

Read previous movie reviews by Paul Willistein at the Times-News web site,, and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, Lehigh Valley Community Public Radio WDIY 88.1 FM, Email Paul Willistein pwillistein@ and on Facebook.