There’s always been something haunting about the world of stop-motion animation. Since the success of The Nightmare Before Christmas, the painstakingly slow process of producing and shooting a stop-motion animation film inherently becomes a topic of conversation. The time and commitment it takes to meticulously choreograph and execute just one scene with constantly moving characters and parts would drive most producers back to CGI. Luckily, there are still a few oddballs out there getting the most out of their stop-motion action figures and putting on a show.
In ParaNorman, Sam Fell and Chris Butler take the directing reigns and further the family-friendly horror movie genre that seems to only exist in the world of stop-motion animation. ParaNorman follows the same vein as Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas in blending the surreal elements of a fantastical horror movie into childhood adventure story. There’s something inherently creepy about the world of stop-motion animation where the storytellers are injecting life into inanimate toys making it the perfect medium for an all ages zombie romp.
The story is shown through the lens of an eleven-year-old named Norman who loves watching campy zombie movies with his grandma who is dead. The only people Norman seems to enjoy talking to are the dead ones, which further alienates him from everyone except his chubby freckled face tag-along, Neil. Norman lives in what seems like a fairly typical suburban New England town of Blithe Hollow, except of course, the curse cast on the town by an evil witch centuries ago. Events converge and Norman’s paranormal gift becomes essential to stopping the zombies and ending the witch’s curse.
Norman, like most eleven year-olds, feels like an outsider and his reputation as the kid who talks to dead people confirms his status. This works for Norman. He never longs for popularity of any sort. When we meet him, he’s reluctant to bond with even Neil, another obvious social outcast. We feel the emotional wall Norman puts up around the normal world protecting himself from the living. Fortunately for Norman, a zombie attack is just what he needed to prove to everyone what he’s made of.
Once the paranormal activity is in full motion, Norman and Neil gather support from their older siblings: Norman’s sister, Courtney, and Neil’s big brother, Mitch. Along with the school bully, Alvin, this ragtag group of suburbanites form an ensemble of familiar yet unique characters in the midst of a horror movie scenario. There’s plenty of action thrilling action and frightening suspense for a story told with action figures, but there’s so much heart and character at the center of Norman’s emotional journey every moment plays up-to-scale.
ParaNorman creates a classic childhood adventure story in the fantastical world of horror movies. With a character who takes on the world of the undead and adolescent anxieties in the same blow, this is a film to please both Norman’s parents and peers.