Posted by: chance47 | 08/26/2012

In Theaters: “ParaNorman” or “Lifetime Presents: The Ben Alvey Story”

WARNING:  What you are about to read is a completely biased review with almost zero-objectivity.

It would almost go without saying that growing up I was somewhat of an outcast (almost because I typically bring it up whenever I can).  I constantly stuck out like a sore thumb.  I was a fat, brainy, nerdy kid obsessed with creepy crawly things, performing arts, and movies and books that my mother would tell me not to read because of their nightmare inducing capabilities (I read them anyway).

While other kids were watching more age appropriate shows I was sitting right alongside my mother watching “Northern Exposure” and “Quantum Leap”.  By the time I was able to rent movies on my own the majority of them contained people having their brains consumed or teenagers being overtly sexual and murdered.  There were never too many animated movies out there that made me feel like I was a part of the crowd (save:  “Nightmare Before Christmas”)

“ParaNorman” is a loving tribute for all of us freaks, outcasts, and weirdos.  This movie isn’t for the very young (Parents up in Arms…it’s rated PG…that means there might be a cuss word).  I’d say twelve and up is the target audience for this movie.  Well…twelve year olds and all of the freaks and weirdos mentioned before.

“ParaNorman” written by Chris Butler and directed by Butler and Sam Fell is a charming story of a young boy who braves daily life even though he’s a little different.  The lush stop-motion animation is brought to us by Laika Entertainment, the same group responsible for the amazing “Coraline” and quirky “Corpse Bride”.

The story is simple.  Norman Babcock, the aforementioned different boy, has the ability to see and speak with the dead.  Something his family frowns upon and disbelieves and something the town of Blithe Hollow, ostracizes him for.  Norman learns that his gift comes with a price.  You see, Blithe Hollow happens to be under a 300 year old witches curse.  Norman’s uncle, blessed with the same spirit-channeling abilities, has kept the curse under wraps, but upon his passing the task falls upon young Norman.

What unfolds is a raucously funny and witty horror tale for the entire family.   Norman must not only navigate the minefield of school bullies and older sisters, but he now has zombies and a very angry witch to contend with.  As Blithe Hollow falls deeper into peril it is up to Norman and a motley crew of misfits (his dippy sister, a brain-dead muscle head, a chubby outcast, and a dirty bully) to save the town before the unknowingly tear themselves apart.

Non-stop one-liners and horror references pepper a smart script that is as equally touching as it is hysterical.  The animation itself is a thing of beauty.  The color scheme and the off-kilter shapes of things brings to mind some of the great horror films of old.  There are countless self-referential gags to keep even the most ardent horror fan amused.

But ultimately what makes “ParaNorman” so charming is the heart at the center of this macabre and spooky tale.  Norman, a victim on countless bullies, realizes that he cannot go through life alone.  That by celebrating what makes everyone different is what best brings us together.  That a bully only attacks what they perceive as weak to build themselves up.  That even through adversity the best we can ever be is ourselves.  I feel any parent taking their child to this movie would be pleased with its message and morals.  And if you are so inclined to talk to your child afterwards you will have plenty to bring up.

The story may be a bit slight, but honestly I couldn’t care when the film itself is so full of countless amazing images and whip-smart vocal performances (great job:  Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Elaine Stritch, et al).  For me, I left with a smile plastered on my face.  Proud and overjoyed to know that FINALLY someone made a movie for all of us outcasts – the geeks, the nerds, the fat kids, the former-fat kids, the fabulously gay, the horribly neurotic, the sci-fi and horror obsessed…the different.

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