SEE ParaNorman, the fun animated film about the supernatural from Chris Butler and Sam Fell. I had no preconceptions about this picture when I sat down to watch it, but there was a twist three minutes in that absolutely had me hooked right there, and the movie just got better as it went along.
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Norman Babcock (Let Me In’s Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a grade school loner. The other kids shun him because he has a Sixth Sense style talent for seeing ghosts. His only friend is Tucker (Neil Albrizzi), who is also the target of teasing because of his weight. Norman is eventually approached by his weird uncle (John Goodman), however, who tells him that he is not the only one in the family with “the gift” and, moreover, that is up to Norman to stop the witch’s curse from destroying their town.
When time runs out and the dead begin emerging from their graves, Norman finds himself scrambling to figure out how to stop it, with help from his teenage sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and Neil’s brother Mitch (Casey Affleck), on whom Courtney has a crush. Somehow, the dimwitted school bully (Kick-Ass’ Chirstopher Mintz-Plasse) also winds up along for the ride.
I can usually tell when an animated movie’s gonna suck – when the voices are provided by Bruce Willis, Kristen Stewart, Christian Bale and Julia Roberts, you wind up thinking – just how shitty is this movie that they had to load it up with big names to get people to see it. Not the case here – there are no huge names, but the young leads give strong performances and talented voice artists like John Goodman, Elaine Stritch and Family Guy’s Alex Borstein lend support.
ParaNorman is fun to look at, visually. A best-of-both-worlds campy style of animation that’s part CGI but also part Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, that’s filled with bizarre angles and skewed curves. There are plenty of great sight gags and homages to classic horror films, including a bisected ghost dog who smells his own butt, a creepy figure in a hockey mask (relax, it’s just Neil and he wants to play hockey) and a tug of war with a corpse over a book of the occult.
ParaNorman is really not a kid’s picture. It is quite a dark film at times and I imagine that any small children who saw it were scared half to death, but ParaNorman does provide an amazing mix of family-friendly comedy and supernatural creepiness – It’s The Zombie Apocalypse Charlie Brown!
I found this picture to be original, entertaining and charming, offering a new take on a relatively old genre. In an animated market that’s flooded with choices, put this one on your watch list.
ALSO ON DVD
SKIP Lawless, the feckless Prohibition-era story about a trio of dim, thuggish southern bootleggers who run afoul of equally dim, thuggish northern gangsters. Shia LaBeouf is unpersuasive as the youngest brother who ascends to run the crime family – Michael Corleone he ain’t – and his romance of the local preacher’s daughter (Mia Wasikowska) couldn’t be more cliched. Jessica Chastain steals every scene she’s in, but she would do that in a good movie too. In the end, the good guys aren’t particularly good, and the bad guys are certainly no worse, and after watching a few seasons of Boardwalk Empire and its tremendous attention to detail, Lawless seems like a cheap high-school drama club production by comparison.
YOUR CALL on Men In Black 3, the time travel sequel/origin story which is probably the last in the Barry Sonnenfeld-headed series. This film is better than the unoriginal rehash that was Men In Black 2, but it still pales in comparison to the wild inventiveness and humor of the original, and the big reveal the film builds up to is dramatically unsatisfying. While not without its moments, this film is a chance to check in on and say goodbye to our old friends Agents J & K, but really not much else.