Paranorman Review

poster from the Laika Entertainment film Paranorman

Yes yes, I know I could have seen Premium Rush (meh) or Hit and Run (blegh), which are new this week, but that would mean leaving Paranorman behind, and I wasn’t ready to do that yet. It and The Odd Life of Timothy Green had an equal chance of being good, and since Timothy Green turned out to be mediocre, that must mean Paranorman is really good (it makes sense to me).

A derided boy who can speak to the dead is the only one who can save his town from a 300 year old witch’s curse.

And my illogic turned out to be totally, totally right. In fact, I loved Paranorman so much I gave it the highest possible rating in my secret notebook rating system that I don’t publish here because it wouldn’t help others. It’s funny, a little scary, and original, so get out there and give it some money.

Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an eleven year old boy who can see ghosts. He talks to his dead Grandma (Elaine Stritch) at home, to all his dead neighbors on his way to school, and hallucinates witchy dreams during the school play, all of which make him the least popular boy in school. Norman gets backbone points for not shoving his abilities in the closet, but he’s a lonely kid.

Norman, his family, and his dead grandma from the Laika Entertainment film Paranorman

Even his family doesn’t seem to like him that much.

So he has no friends until he meets Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), the other kid that gets made fun of (because he’s fat). Neil wants to be friends and won’t take no for an answer.

Neil wants to play hockey from the Laika Entertainment film Paranorman

NEIL: “Wanna play hockey?”

Strangely enough, though, when Norman’s weird uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman) (who can also talk to the dead) croaks and shows up to tell Norman it’s now his job to read the book that keeps the angry dead witch dead, it’s Alvin the bully (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who comes along for the ride.

Norman and his crazy uncle Prenderghast from the Laika Entertainment film Paranorman

Play your cards right, boy, and you can end up just like me!

The reading doesn’t go so well and the witch’s curse gets activated, releasing a hoarde of undead pilgrims on the town which only Norman can protect them from, on account of he can speak to the dead so their moans sound like words to him. Major points to Paranorman here for being the only story I’ve ever seen where the dead-whisperer can talk to something other than ghosts.

Norman has a vision of toilet paper zombies from the Laika Entertainment film Paranorman

Ghosts, zombies, scary witches, toilet paper arms, he’s got it all covered.

Norman spends most of the rest of the movie fleeing from zombies with Alvin, Neil, his ditzy sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and Neil’s clueless brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) as he tries to find the witch’s grave so he can get her to stop. On the surface it doesn’t seem like much more than your typical “being different is okay” story, but it is. It does this theme MUCH better than Timothy Green, for reasons I can’t tell you or I’ll ruin it on you.

Courtney, Norman, Alvin, Neil, and Mitch flee from zombies from the Laika Entertainment film Paranorman

Ahhhhh! Spoilers!!!! Run!!!!!

The problem with most horror comedies is that they rely too heavily on a self conscious portrayal of common horror elements for comedy. Paranorman does make fun of horror clichés but it also goes further than that, throwing out clever jokes at every level of perception. The zombies look funny:

cursed zombies from the Laika Entertainment film Paranorman

May we have some brains, please and thank you?

The dialogue is dryly hilarious and laced with irony:

Norman and Neil with Neils dead dog from the Laika Entertainment film Paranorman

NEIL: “He was run over by an animal rescue van. Tragic and ironic.”

And there were even jokes were hidden in the background, like how Alvin broke into the town hall using a placard advertising a crime prevention seminar, so there were times when I was the only one laughing because I was the only one who noticed the joke.

Mitchs van from the Laika Entertainment film Paranorman

Mitch’s van flying off the road and through the fence into an auto wrecking yard.

Another reason I loved Paranorman was that the animators managed to break away from the stereotype characters that populate most other cartoons, where the boys are apple cheeked and the girls are lithe. Norman’s sister could wear a bracelet as a belt but has a huge butt. Mitch is shaped like triangle, with the typical huge hero biceps but a seriously underdeveloped set of legs. And Norman himself is pale and droopy with heavy eyebrows and ears like an elephant.

Norman brushes his teeth from the Laika Entertainment film Paranorman

His clothes are also incredibly detailed.

I was surprised by how much I loved Paranorman, especially since I merely liked their last movie, Coraline. I was laughing, the kids were laughing, and we all teared up a little bit sometimes because it does manage to get to you. Little little kids (think six and under) might be scared by it, but do bring the rest of your family to see Paranorman. You’ll all like it.

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