ParaNorman: John Carpenter Meets John Hughes
Another handsome handcrafted charmer from Laika, the stop-motion shop that gave us Coraline, makes up for lacking its predecessor's delicacy by also lacking its dispassion. In scenic Blithe Hollow, whose main industry is the window-dressing of its own witch-hunt history, and whose founding fathers return one night as marauding zombies, a lonely little dead-people seer finds his calling at last. Customarily shunned and necessarily groupthink-resistant, young Norman, voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee, stands poised to transpose middle school estrangement into redemptive proto-adult empathy. This occurs by way of agreeably domesticated grind-house tropes, tricked out with snazzy F/X. At Comic-Con, debut writer and codirector Chris Butler called it "John Carpenter meets John Hughes," and that does just about sum ParaNorman up, though the actual math still feels a little fuzzy. Butler and codirector Sam Fell, of Flushed Away, have more vernacular command than tonal harmony; if they achieve roughly equal parts lulz and lulls — here, the ghost of a dissevered dog sniffs its own ass; there, a car chase mires in mere wheel-spinning — at least it's through a steady pressure of avidity. Better still, just as 3-D makes space for the finer details of a well-built world, animation affords a supporting cast playing contentedly against type: Anna Kendrick as a vain ditz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as a dopey bully, and Casey Affleck as a meathead jock.
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