If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a young kid with a special ability: He sees dead people. His family and the people of his town fear and hate him for this, all except for a chubby, dim-witted kid named Neil (Tucker Albrizzi). After the passing of Norman's uncle (John Goodman), he comes back to warn Norman that a local legend about a witch's curse is true and that he must stop her from wreaking havoc.
This movie is, in part, a send-up to movies of various different eras. There's a lot of influence from 50s zombie movies, but more so their runs on television during the 80s. The Goonies also comes to mind though I'm not sure that's a great comparison, really. It's a little closer to Super 8, in that it has a deep, personal story to it that is full of a lot of heart. It's definitely more its own thing than anything, which is what really makes it work in the end. all of the characters are stereotypes thrown together in just the right way to make it an entertaining and rather thought-provoking film.
I feel like what makes this movie work best is that while most of the characters are archetypes of movie characters we all know, Norman himself is actually very different from the normal hero we tend to have in movies like this. He's extremely quiet and shy around people, but friendly and caring when it comes to ghosts. This leads to the way people treat him, which in turn keeps him from developing and fitting in. Kodi Smit-McPhee is obviously not that great at voicework, but this actually helps show Norman as a timid young boy. He's able to bring power to the role later in the film, showing that there is a good actor in him as well as showing us another side of Nomran that really develops the character.
I couldn't write a review of this film without mentioning the animation. This still isn't quite as fascinating to watch as Corpse Bride, but the art style and the humor brings it to a level that we haven't seen before in stop-motion. The lighting and the texture of everything is vivid and precise, giving it both a classic and a fresh feeling. The characters all have their individual quirks with subtle gestures that help humanize them past their stereotypes. Careful detail was put into making Norman himself uniquely animated, each emotion flowing from the puppet with ease.
ParaNorman excels at most every aspect of its specific medium. The animation is stunning, the humor doesn't talk down to kids (and is very much deserving of its PG rating), the characters are lovable and the story is engaging and heartfelt. This is a must-see for just about anybody, but especially if you have kids and they're begging to see it. This is the kind of kids animated movie you can enjoy too.