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A misunderstood boy who can speak with the dead, takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.
For more about ParaNorman and the ParaNorman Blu-ray release, see ParaNorman Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on December 1, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, John Goodman, Casey Affleck
Directors: Sam Fell, Chris Butler
» See full cast & crew
ParaNorman Blu-ray Review
"There's nothing wrong with being scared Norman, so long as you don't let it change who you are..."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, December 1, 2012
ParaNorman might just be the best Tim Burton movie that Tim Burton didn't have a hand in. Dark kiddie fare, classic horror references aplenty, a general love of all things macabre, a weird and wild cast of characters, bullied little boys, curse-spewing witches, needy ghosts, Puritan zombies... it's all tailor fit to the reclusive filmmaker's morose tongue-in-cheek sense and sensibilities. Never mind how ghastly uneven his own projects have been of late, though. Burton has become such a household Hollywood eccentric that he's inadvertently spawned his own genre, the crown jewel of which just so happens to be another Laika stop-motion animated film: Coraline, easily one of the finest animated films of the last ten years. But ParaNorman is no Coraline, which is perhaps the most damning thing anyone could write about directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell's lovable but lop-sided spin on an age-old scary story. Is it a fun ride? Absolutely. Will it lure you back Halloween after Halloween? Not quite.
Poor Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road) sees dead people. But while most would consider it a curse, lonely little Norman actually enjoys the company, conversation and well wishes from beyond the grave. The dead are friendly enough, and rarely do anything more than say hello. That is until the vengeful spirit of an evil Blithe Hollow witch executed three-hundred years earlier raises a horde of the undead and unleashes them on the boy's sleepy Massachusetts home town. Tasked with protecting Blithe Hollow from the witch's return by his recently deceased uncle (John Goodman, The Big Lebowski), Norman enlists the help of his new friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi, Good Luck Charlie), a classmate named Salma (Hannah Noyes) and, to various degrees, a lineup of reluctant skeptics including his testy father (Jeff Garlin, Curb Your Enthusiasm), his protective mother (Leslie Mann, Knocked Up), his mean-spirited older sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air), his ghostly grandmother (Elaine Stritch, 30 Rock), Neil's dim-bulb older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck, Gone Baby Gone) and lunk-headed school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad).
ParaNorman tends to shuffle, lurch and lunge with a slack jaw and glassy eyes, exhibiting sharp awareness one minute and dull wits the next. First-time director Butler (working from a script of his own creation) and third-time's-a-charm hopeful Fell (whose previous directorial credits include misfires Flushed Away and The Tale of Despereaux) struggle to gain narrative momentum, whip up a cast of memorable characters, and walk the line between kid-friendly and nightmare-inducing. The story is a bit rickety and ungainly, even though its unpredictable nature and a few genuinely hilarious surprises make up for it. Everyone but Norman, Neil and Mitch are downright irritating (Courtney is nearly unbearable), and the more crowded the stage gets, the harder it is to endure Norman's torments. And parents would do well to watch the film before asking anyone under eight to even attempt making it all the way through. Lightness and levity prevails but the dark is dark, and the scares and spooks are rather touch and go. Brace for buried heads, fleeing children and general unease. It's by no means as unsettling as Coraline, mind you, but consider yourselves warned all the same, moms and dads.
That said, older kids will find it to be a fun and delightfully creepy animated frightfest, and parents weened on '70s and '80s horror will get a sick kick out of just how clever ParaNorman can be. (The 17th century zombies' reaction to the modern world is worth the cost of admission alone.) And that's not even half of what awaits visitors to Blithe Hollow. Smit-McPhee and company are a touch wooden in their delivery but, for the most part, they imbue Norman and his unwitting cohorts with plenty of heart, humor and moxie; performances the spirited and inventive Laika stop-motion animation only embraces and enlivens. The biggest surprise, though, is the scope and scale of it all. Like Coraline, ParaNorman is ambitious. The tale told is a smalltown affair, but the scope and scale of the film's supernatural happenings is far grander than I expected. Raging storms, rising evils, zombie assaults, van chases, harrowing hauntings and otherworldly jaunts, all full of life even in undeath. It's tough to top a stop-motion triumph. Though not to everyone's tastes, the craft and sheer artistry on display goes a long way, and it doesn't take much to best whatever computer-generated magic most other animation studios churn out. It's almost too much for the eye to take in with one viewing. Now if only Norman's paranormal adventure were worth watching more than once...
ParaNorman Blu-ray, Video Quality
ParaNorman springs to life with a flawless 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation that showcases the film's grim, ghoulish wonders beautifully. Breaking from convention, Butler and Fell shot all 400,000 stop-frames of the movie using sixty Canon EOS 5D Mark II SLR cameras, and the resulting high definition image is as crisp and refined as any animation fan could hope for. Edges are sharp and clean, textures are incredibly revealing, and delineation is excellent. Even minuscule frame-by-frame facial variations are wonderfully apparent, without any blip, blemish or significant artifact to report. Moreover, colors are striking and vibrant, primaries are rich and rewarding, black levels are suitably ominous, and contrast is dialed in perfectly. I don't have a single complaint.
ParaNorman Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track doesn't quite wake the dead but it'll give 'em a good shake. The LFE channel scares up supernatural storms, apocalyptic chaos, chilling moans and groans, and deep, hair-raising thooms without incident, and the rear speakers match it all crash for smash. Winds howl from every direction. Zombies shamble up behind unsuspecting viewers. Ghostly wails echo across the soundfield. The monstrous roar of a vindictive witch fills the room. And Jon Brion's score is the marrow to the tireless soundscape's bones, rising from every eerie silence with purpose and presence. Dialogue doesn't disappoint either. Voices are clean, clear and perfectly prioritized, and whispers are as intelligible as cries for help. Simply put, ParaNorman's AV presentation is terrific.
ParaNorman Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
ParaNorman Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
ParaNorman isn't as original, polished or unforgettable as Coraline, but its Blu-ray release certainly is thanks to its magnificent video presentation, excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track and solid supplemental showing. A few more special features would have been appreciated, especially a fuller behind-the-scenes documentary, but no matter. ParaNorman will still be breathing years from now, if only because its high definition release is so strong.
ParaNorman: Other Editions
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ParaNorman Blu-ray, News and Updates
• ParaNorman Blu-ray - October 4, 2012
Universal is bringing Focus Features' frightfully funny and magically emotional ParaNorman to Blu-ray this November. The stop-motion family horror features the voice talents of Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In), Tucker Albrizzi (Good Luck Charlie), and Anna Kendrick ...
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