That’s the spooky setup of this beautifully precise stop-motion animated feature. The directors, Chris Butler (who also wrote the dark, agile screenplay) and Sam Fell, have crafted something special; their clever sight gags and wicked sensibility add some creepy, memorable scares to a wholesome story that encourages individuality. The film avoids the pandering of many animated features, bringing an acerbic edge and a thrilling intelligence to its story. The persuasive voice work is by Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, and the inimitable Elaine Stritch, among many others.
After a creaky start, ParaNorman comes to life once the dead rise. Zombies stomp, trees throw dagger branches, purple-faced clouds loom, and this roller-coaster ride through an expertly crafted house of terrors culminates with an unfortunately busy finale, where Norman confronts Aggie, the misunderstood witch.
Too scary for the youngest in your family? Probably. Parents, proceed with caution.
ParaNorman, in fact, belongs on the short list of animated fables that aim most of their messages at grown-ups rather than kids. Adults will cheer Norman’s mature effort to accept his supernatural heritage. They’ll jeer Mintz-Plasse’s bully and chuckle at a brainless quarterback (Casey Affleck) with a secret to keep. And they’ll nod, solemnly, during a telling scene near the end of ParaNorman where the zombies lurch through Norman’s town, absorb examples of our society’s mind-numbing pop culture and cower in fear. Because in ParaNorman, the real monsters often look an awful lot like us.
ParaNorman 3D is showing Oct. 5 & 6 at 7:00 p.m., and Oct. 7 at 5:00 p.m.
Rated PG | 92 minutes