The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Do you like any of the following things: the films of George A. Romero, “The Walking Dead,” The Cabin in the Woods, The Ring, Coraline,, “Tales From the Crypt,” Shaun of the Dead, Scream or Grindhouse? If you do, you're going to love ParaNorman. Despite being a PG-rated, animated family film, it's also a loving homage to the horror genre. I knew from the opening seconds, which recreate the look and feel of a '70s splatter flick, that the movie was going to be something special.

This is the story of Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young boy who sees and communicates with the spirits of the dead. He's treated as a freak by his fellow students, the community at large, and even his own parents (Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin). Only one other person in town has the same ability as Norman: a creepy old man named Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman). One afternoon, Mr. Prenderghast confronts Norman, telling him that he has to take over the duty of foiling a vindictive witch who tries to raise the dead every year. Norman is skeptical, but soon finds zombies crawling up from the ground. Together with his teenage sister (Anna Kendrick), his best friend (Tucker Albrizzi), the jock next door (Casey Affleck), and the class lunkhead (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), he launches into action in order to save his town from the undead.

ParaNorman was animated using 3D sculptures, in the same way as Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas were. Everything has been beautifully designed, with loads of intricate details that make Norman's world come more fully alive. If you look closely, you'll notice that it's all done with a sense of respect to the horror genre. This is not a prettified version of a zombie picture. While the scares are PG-lite, the story, visuals, and humor are decidedly macabre, and the tone has clearly been influenced by decades of fright-film classics. Without ever calling attention to those influences, ParaNorman is steeped in them. Even the lighting and color schemes are carefully chosen to evoke some of the most beloved titles in the genre.

An effective story lies at the movie's heart. Writer Chris Butler (who also co-directed with Sam Fell), has crafted an intelligent plot that plays with horror movie conventions while also delivering a theme about the perils of bullying. There was a moment in ParaNorman that made the kids in my theater gasp. Without spoilers, Norman makes a crucial discovery about the witch who terrorizes his town; rather than softening it, the film goes right into take-no-prisoners territory, dropping the revelation like a bomb. This leads to a surprisingly intense – and emotional – finale.

Every frame of ParaNorman is gorgeous to look at. The jokes often elicit a pleasant combination of laughs and ewwws. You can tell that the filmmakers have a passion for quality horror and want to introduce it to young viewers in an age-appropriate way. Imagine a “Tales From the Crypt” episode aimed at children and you'll have a sense of the flavor. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay ParaNorman is to say that I love as much now as I would have at age ten, when I most certainly would have flipped for it. This is a thoroughly delightful movie that will entertain kids and adult horror buffs alike.

( out of four)

Note: Because of scheduling issues, I screened ParaNorman in 2D rather than 3D. Aside from a few shots in the last 15 minutes, there didn't seem to be a whole lot that necessitated 3D. In fact, I was ultimately glad I saw it in 2D because it allowed me to really focus on the movie's lushly eerie visuals.

ParaNorman is rated PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

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