Today’s movie, takes the premise from The Sixth Sense puts a new spin on it, throws in some fun and creative twists, and adds some fun characters and presents it all in fantastic stop-motion animation, and it should all add up to be something special. I really wanted to like ParaNorman, and for the first half, maybe even the first two-thirds of the movie, I did. Unfortunately, the movie really falls apart in the last third, leading up to a fantastically boring conclusion.
In the strange New England town of Blithe Hollow, middle school student Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) can see dead people, however seeing ghosts doesn’t really bother him. What bothers Norman is that everyone thinks he’s weird kid seeking attention by claiming to see ghosts. The only people who believe him are his weird tubby friend Neil Downe (Tucker Albrizzi) and that the weirdest person in town is his uncle, Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman), who also claims to see dead people. The town’s history and tourist appeal is all based around a colonial-era witch trial and execution that occurred in the town. Mr. Prenderghast tries telling Norman that the town’s legend of the Witch’s curse is true, and that Norman is the next in the line with the responsibility for keeping the undead from rising to seek revenge against the town. When Prenderghast dies his ghost appears to Norman informing him that the job is now his. Of course, things go a bit awry, and Norman winds up having to defend his town from bizarre supernatural events, and panicking townspeople.
There was a lot that I liked about this movie. The visuals were fantastic, and I couldn’t tell while watching whether I was looking at actual stop-motion, or computer animation designed to look like stop-motion animation. The visuals go a long way to creating this film’s biggest strength, which was a general atmosphere that was simultaneously creepy and funny. It actually reminded me of the tone set in a couple of video games that I’ve really enjoyed: Ghostbusters: The Videogame and Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick.
There are also some fantastic characters… well, there’s one fantastic character: Neil. I mean, how can you not like anyone who gets cast as the tree in the school play, but still takes the part seriously. Unfortunately, the character, who really shines in the first half of the film, gets less and less screen-time as the movie moves along. It’s almost as if the filmmakers got tired of him, which is really a shame.
As for the rest of the supporting characters, in pretty much every case they’re examples of stock horror movie archetypes but with an “unexpected” subversion to that character trope that’s revealed along the way. For example, Norman’s sister, Courtney (Anna Kendrick) is a popularity-obsessed blonde cheerleader but she delivers an eloquent speech in defense of her pariah brother at a key moment. Even the zombies are not what you’d expect. I’m normally a fan of subverting tropes and doing the unexpected, but when a film does it at every single turn, the unexpected becomes the expected. By the time Mitch (Casey Affleck), the popular jock, reveals his “shocking” character trait, there was no surprise left to be had.
However, these issues weren’t my real problem with the movie. My real problem is that after establishing a funny but also genuinely creepy scenario, the movie descends into an incredibly boring yet all too cliché anti-bulling screed. Honestly, Norman ultimately saves the day by having an incredibly dull conversation with the primary villain where, after we learn that the villain was really just a victim of people not understanding other people’s differences, he convinces this character to just let bygones be bygones.
I really can’t stress how massively unexciting this turned out to be. Really, it takes a movie that could really have been something special, and turns it into a movie that, while not particularly bad, is not worth seeing.