How do you take a cliché and seduce your audience into not caring that it is? Give them what they expect, but not in the way they expect, with subtle differences that make the characters come alive with specificity. And despite, or perhaps because of, its characters being animated, ParaNorman pretty much nails it.
From Laika, the stable that made Coraline, this is its next stop-motion feature in 3D, again with a loner protagonist and creepy stuff. Norman’s an anxious 11-year-old who converses with ghosts; for that he’s labelled a freak. Even his family don’t know how to handle him. When a weird uncle tries to persuade him to take over his lifelong task of staving off a witch’s curse, Norman finds himself juggling not just ghosts and a pissed-off witch, but bullies and zombies as well.
If it sounds like a bit of a mish-mashup, it is, with enough plot toing and froing to make you conscious of time passing, but you forgive it because the artwork is so darn good, even beautiful, and the characters are surprisingly endearing. They’re stereotypes, yes, but that artwork – possibly influenced by co-director Sam Fell’s time at Aardman, home of Wallace and Gromit – defines and animates the animated with charming idiosyncrasies. Norman’s eyebrows alone are worth the watch as they travel a gamut of emotions. Nothing to do with the 3D, but these characters, and their voice talent, seem more than one-dimensional.
Naturally, Norman saves his town and comes of age, and lessons are learnt all round. There are scary bits, and more than a few spontaneous laughs. Visually delightful holiday fun.
PARANORMAN, directed by Chris Butler & Sam Fell
Films are rated out of 5: 1 = abysmal; 5 = amazing