The Big Screen: He talks to dead people -- 'ParaNorman' is a film whole family can enjoy

By KEVIN VAUGHNAugust 25, 2012 

"ParaNorman" is a gorgeous kids film to add to the arsenal of 3D stop-animation films.

Drawing close inspiration from the visual stylings of Henry Selick ("Coraline," "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "James and the Giant Peach") and taking it down a few notches (but not too many) on the dark scale, this is a spooky child's tale about a boy who can talk to the dead.

Norman is a bookish nerdy kid, hair straight up and shoulders slightly hunched. He receives a lot of attention from a bully at school, and equally cruel is his teenage sister Courtney, a mean girl who wants nothing to do with her annoying little sibling.

His parents, voiced by Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann, are concerned. Norman claims to talk to ghosts, and not just that, he hangs out with them. Norman is the opposite of Haley Joel Osment's terrified ghost whisperer. A year after the death of Norman's grandmother, he spends time with her in the living room watching horror films -- only now a green gaseous fume oozes from her body.

The only one who believes him is his weird Uncle (voiced by John Goodman). It makes sense, Norman lives in the middle of a tourist trap famous for a witch hunt in the late-1700s. The town is overcrowded with 300 years worth of the dead.

The film succeeds for two reasons. Norman is an amusing protagonist. He isn't the regular overly cheerful, wide-grinning Disney cutout. He is gloomy, a bit of a weirdo, but still a hero we can root for. It also wins for the stop-animation style, that even when done time and again, never ceases to amaze. Stop animation is able to sculpt details that traditional animation can't achieve, every little detail becomes that much more fantastic when you realize nearly everything is made by hand.

Although the film is thinner than its earlier counterparts, it is an end-of-summer flick that can be enjoyed by the entire family.

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