Paranorman 3D movie review

Paranorman opens with B-movie, late night horror-styled title cards. A girl runs from a zombie in a haunted house. Fake film grain and intentionally bad acting set the scene. The camera pulls back and we meet Norman, plopped in front of his TV watching with wide eyes and a smile.

Reverence to old school horror films is not a quality I expect from the latest 3D family flick, but it's just one of the reasons Paranorman isn't your typical animated film. There's even a bit of that 80s horror synth laced into the soundtrack that evokes old George Romero or John Carpenter film scores. Combine that with subject matter reminiscent of the more dark kid's movies of earlier decades and you have a film that's going to make a lot of 80s babies very happy. Whether it will hold the attention of today's kids is an entirely different matter.

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Norman sees dead people. This ability is something that's left him as an outcast from his classmates, and even his family. With a neighborhood of ghosts to say hi to and a grandmother to keep him company, Norman accepts his loner lifestyle. Bullied at school and seemingly disenchanted with the whole thing, Norman is the character for the quiet kids that don't fit in.

The plot starts to roll along when Norman's dead-people-seeing skills make him the next in line to solve his town's age old curse. When things go wrong it's all zombies and witches and an angry mob of townsfolk. With a sort of loveable cast of monsters, a brave kid saving the day, and a sleepy old town gone to hell, Paranorman evokes memories of light-hearted horror films like The Monster Squad. It's even complete with that epic showdown at town hall square that feels like a hallmark of an era where people actually knew where their town halls were.

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Along the journey we are treated to some of the finest stop-motion animation committed to film. The attention to detail is impeccable and there's a richness to everything that you can't possibly fake with CG. Top it off with 3D that actually pops throughout the entire film and Paranorman is a joy to look at.

My only concern with Paranorman is that it's simply not exciting enough to keep the attention of its intended audience. Kids are almost always smarter than we give them credit for, but Paranorman is every bit as subdued as its main character. Sure, there are some slapstick moments but this isn't Ice Age by any stretch. Even I wished the film had a bit more energy at times, but I have to give it props for staying on message and asking a bit more from the audience than the typical family film.

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I don't know if Paranorman will catch on as a classic the way the yearly Pixar and Dreamworks offerings seem to, but I wouldn't be surprised if it finds a place in the realm of cult classic family films like The Iron Giant, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Brave Little Toaster. It has a similar quality in my mind, and its rough edges only make it stand out all the more.

stars

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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