'ParaNorman' Movie Review (2012)

ParaNorman movie review
Photo: Focus Features

The animation is wonderful, but I simply cannot find it in myself to take much enjoyment out of the films the animators at Laika deliver. Like Coraline, ParaNorman is a plodding drag surrounded by some of the most stunning stop-motion animation you're going to see. The humor largely falls flat and grows increasingly redundant as the characters do very little to emote any kind of convincing feelings as the film frequently stops and telegraphs every coming moment -- "Now this will be harrowing, and this will make you laugh and this will make you feel sad." Sorry, it accomplished none of that. I take that back... I did laugh, but it was merely minor chuckles in an attempt to enjoy my time more than I actually was.

Grade: C-

ParaNorman"ParaNorman" is a Focus Features release, directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler and is rated PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language. The running time is .

The cast includes Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, Bernard Hill and Alex Borstein.

ParaNorman gives off the same vibe as similarly themed, darkly comic stop motion animated films from the scraggly trees, crooked rooftops and forlorn faces and desolate eyes of the inhabitants of the small town in which it takes place. Here we meet Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young boy that can see and talk to the dead. Problem is, his parents don't believe him and treat him like trash, his sister treats him like he's lower than the family dog and he has no friends at school. Go figure, we're already off to a rousing start of originality.

Even when confronted with someone that wants to be his friend in the form of the equally outcast Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi), Norman shuns him. "I like to be alone," says Norman, but Neil doesn't give up so easy, fascinated by Norman's "talent" and simply looking for someone to be his friend. Good luck Neil.

The narrative begins to take shape when Norman learns of the town's dark secret involving a witch and a yearly ritual that prevents her from returning and re-animating the dead. If you've seen the trailer you know something goes wrong, the dead begin to rise and zombie jokes and mayhem ensue. Some of it is mildly amusing, but it's the delivery that left me cold.

There never seems to be much energy to the piece as things frequently stop and start in an effort to deliver a punchline followed by a character screaming in surprise. It happens time and again. Even if it were humorous the first time, after the fifth or sixth time the score drops out of a scene cuts to make way for an elementary punchline is just tiresome.

Chris Butler wrote and co-directed the film with Flushed Away and Tales of Despereaux helmer Sam Fell and the lack of inventiveness all around is disappointing. Had it not been for John Goodman voicing Norman's crazy, ghost-seeing uncle, there wouldn't have been any life to the picture to speak of.

Looking over the list of names involved in the voice cast, only Goodman and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are recognizable and no one else stood out from the crowd for me to waste time sifting through the credits to learn Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Bernard Hill and Tempest Bledsoe also cashed checks for lending their voices to the production, despite bringing little or nothing to the proceedings.

I can respect wonderful art when it is created. Visually and from a technical level, ParaNorman is a monumental achievement. From the perspective of someone looking to be entertained, however, these 93 minutes couldn't go by fast enough.


More Movie Reviews

'Straight Outta Compton' (2015) Movie ReviewB-

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

'Mistress America' (2015) Movie ReviewB+

Mistress America (2015)

'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' (2015) Movie ReviewB

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

'Cop Car' (2015) Movie ReviewB-

Cop Car (2015)

More Reviews
  • http://timeforafilm.com Alex Thomas

    I agree that Goodman and Plasse were the only real noticable voices, although I noticed Kendrick's character too.

    I thought it was quite funny, while the laughs were not that strong they were definitely consistent for me and it got a little emotion out of me in the end.

    I think it gets a Best Animation nom for sure, will be keen to see your thoughts on this after everyone has seen it.

  • Chris

    I really enjoyed Coraline, which you disliked. Surprising given how many times I have agreed with you. I am hoping that our opinions differ on this as well as I am looking forward to it.

  • Steve J

    I don't think I have seen more critics say the same thing about any movie then this one.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Which is? That it's amazing animation? Because I think I am one of the few that didn't like it aren't I? With that 85% I definitely feel in the minority and Kevin from The Playlist and I discussed it on this week's podcast and we can't figure out the appeal outside of the animation.

      • Dan

        This is how I felt about Moonrise Kingdom. Except replace "amazing animation" with "great mise en scene." I often like Wes Anderson, so I wanted to like Kingdom (Tenenbaums and Mr. Fox would probably be the only two of his I would consider arguing for as 'masterful'). Thought the technical filmmaking was great, but the movie almost completely failed to engage me. It kept me at arm's length, not that that's always a huge problem in a movie, but it seemed like a movie you needed to be able to respond to on some emotional level (considering it was about family and young love, etc.) and was frankly just boring most of the time (granted there were a few times a quirk or the filmmaking itself entertained me, and Bruce Willis had a nice scene with the Sam character; but not NEARLY enough to make much of a difference). So while I don't think it's a terrible flick, I'm just not understanding the praise (in my opinion it seems to suffer from some of the same weaknesses that critics pointed out in Steve Zissou, i.e. it's all stylistic Anderson flourishes, and not really a movie that engages you). I remember your review of it being positive, but I'm just saying you seem to feel the same way about ParaNorman in relation to the critic's consensus that I did about Kingdom. I just related to your thinking, and I'm assuming, some of your disappointment.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

          I can see that criticism to Anderson's Moonrise. It's a strange things when movies connect with people and not with others despite similarities in taste.

          • Dan

            It's more interesting that way.

  • Rv

    Poor review. The movie is really good. You need to watch it again.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Do you care to enlighten me on what I missed and would take out of a second viewing?