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The Independent Critic

Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Casey Affleck, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, Leslie Mann, Tempestt Bledsoe, Elaine Stritch
Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Chris Butler
Rated PG
93 Mins.
Focus Features
Feature Commentary with Writer/Director Chris Butler and Director Sam Fell;Preliminary Animatic Sequences;
Peering Through the Veil Behind the Scenes of ParaNorman

 "ParaNorman" a Darkly Funny and Sweet Almost Masterpiece 
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From the makers of Coraline, ParaNorman centers around Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a moody teen whose obsession with horror films and obvious otherworldly abilities put him at odds with the tangible world around him. Norman is an oddball outcast amongst his family and even moreso among his peers at school, by whom he is so bullied that he seems rather resigned to it all. It's only when his uncle (John Goodman), also a lifelong outcast, passes away and Norman discovers that he has inherited the responsibility of protecting his 300-year-old town from an ancient witch's curse (The witch is delightfully voiced by Jodelle Ferland).

ParaNorman is the second 3-D stop-motion feature film from LAIKA Studios, the same studio responsible for Coraline. Much as was true for Coraline, ParaNorman's strength lies in its absolutely wondrous animation, filled with sumptuous details and painstakingly life-like creations even within the film's rather beast like creations. If Pixar had a gothic love child, it would likely be named Laika. ParaNorman is part teen angst story, part zombie flick and all out fun for a good majority of its screen time. It may seem weird to use the word "fun" when describing a film that isn't even remotely hesitant to delve into subjects such as death, loneliness and bullying. Yet, somehow, British screenwriter and co-director Chris Butler manages to find balance in it all and creates what is likely to be one of 2012's most unique and inspiring animated features.

 Norman is a unique looking young chap with the usual bossy older sister (Anna Kendrick), quick-tempered father (Jeff Garlin) and loving yet concerned mother (Leslie Mann) along with a grandmother (voiced by the awesome Elaine Stritch),  who is actually dead but with whom Norman has a regular, ongoing relationship that is of more than a little concern by his parents. All of this, of course, is going to end up with Norman going toe-to-toe in a zombie battle to save the town and, of course, there will be encounters with family, peers and bullies along the way that he'll have to deal with to succeed. While the set up may sound just a tad familiar, ParaNorman only really begins to fade in its final half hour or so, when Butler and co-director Sam Fell end the film with more of a melancholy whimper than a bang. The melancholy is actually a rather nice touch, but there was simply much more to be had within this story and it deserved a more creative ending.

Vocal work is strong across the board, and Jon Brion's original score is a perfect companion for the film with a sublime mixture of melancholy and madness along the way. ParaNorman doesn't really measure up to Coraline, but it's a decent notch above even the best animated work of Tim Burton, a filmmaker with a similar sensibility.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic