Meet Norman, he sees dead people
(PG, general release, 92 minutes)
A beautifully and painstakingly crafted stop motion animation from Laika, the studio that brought us the sublime Coraline, ParaNorman ultimately fails to reach the standards of its illustrious predecessor but is a charming and diverting little film nevertheless.
Perhaps the freshest thing about it is its protagonist, Norman Babcock, a spike-haired 11-year-old who sees visions of the dead.
Though no one else can see her, Norman is regularly visited by his late grandmother, who gives him sound advice while knitting a ghostly sweater. Everywhere he goes in his small New England town of Blithe Hollow, Norman sees ghosts -- of settlers, Indians, Civil War casualties and cowboys.
But Blithe Hollow was also the scene of a notorious 18th-century witch-hunt, and when Norman receives a reliable tip from a dead person that 300-year-old zombies are about to invade the town, no one will believe him.
As mournfully voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee, Norman is a compelling and sympathetic lead character, a kind of pint-sized Hamlet who mopes about town with a dark cloud over his head, silently enduring the sneers of his classmates.
But when the zombies arrive, he's the town's last hope, and the writers have a lot of fun lampooning horror conventions.
John Goodman does a great job voicing Norman's crazy uncle, and Anna Kendrick voices Norman's ditzy older sister, Courtney.
ParaNorman really is beautiful to look at, and the producers manage to blend 3D with a suitably gothic aesthetic without making the film impenetrably dark. It's a very accomplished animation, and is only let down by a slight joke drought towards the end.
Day & Night