In the course of just a couple days, the film industry has delivered two extremely different, but uniformly brilliant, family oriented pictures. Peter Hedges fashioned an enchanting fable with “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” earlier this week. Now “ParaNorman,” a gothic stop-motion animated feature from Chris Butler and Sam Fell, has granted families a second reason to go to the movies this weekend. Even if a child or your family doesn’t accompany you though, both of these films can provide substantial entertainment for any audience.
Little Kodi Smit-McPhee of “Let Me In” voices Norman, an 11-year-old with a sixth sense. His family, schoolmates, and pretty much the entire town think Norman is a lunatic as he asserts his ability to communicate with the dead. The only person who believes Norman is Mr. Prenderghast, a crazy, old man who has been protecting the town from a witch’s curse for years. Prenderghast croaks and passes on the duty to Norman, who simply wants to live a normal life. When he fails to read from an ancient book, Norman allows both the witch and several zombies to run about the town.
Similar to the underappreciated “Monster House,” “ParaNorman” has a tremendous sense of humor to itself, satirizing “Halloween” and various zombie pictures. Zombies can be awfully dull antagonists since they have no personality and move around like slugs. “ParaNorman” directly references this fact in the opening scene as a woman stands still screaming while a zombie slowly approaches her. Laughs are also derived from the first-rate supporting cast, which includes Anna Kendrick as Norman’s cheerleader big sister, Tucker Albrizzi as his chubby best friend, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the school bully, and Casey Affleck as a meathead jock.
In addition to being a very a funny picture, “ParaNorman” encompasses the same chills of Henry Selick’s “Coraline” and Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The film isn’t quite up there with those enduring classics. Yet, it does deserve to be used in the same sentence. These are all incessantly innovative, wonderfully weird productions realized via twisted, stop-motion artistry. They commonly mix together elements of terror and charm to produce something spectacularly creative.
Some parents may be weary about taking their little ones to see a film full of zombies, ghosts, and witches. But deep down every child is secretly drawn to the grotesque creatures that go bump in the night. Otherwise they wouldn’t love getting dressed up on Halloween. Like Norman, many kids can often feel like monsters as they struggle to fit in with the rest of society. “ParaNorman” resonates with the monstrous child that delves within us all, reminding kids that it’s OK to be different while also being a lot of fun.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.