Norman Babcock, the 11-year-old hero in the stop-motion 3D animated feature “ParaNorman,” sees dead people. In addition to communing with the spirits of those who have passed on – he’s severely bullied and marginalized at school for his preoccupation – Norman has brand loyalty to Zombie-centric toothbrushes, posters and otherworldly paraphernalia. In other words, he’s a weird kid who, in Neptunian fashion, finds it easy to cross over from mundane reality into a transcendent one.
Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) has a family whose members either fear for his well being or ridicule him for his fetish. But the kid’s approval rating will soon take a sharp upward turn. That’s because he’s the only one who can rally the denizens of Blithe Hollow to fight a Witch’s Curse. His town, which has historic ties to a witch hunt and death sentence that now fuels tourism, is now about to face off – for real – with the wrath of the wrongly condemned woman.
The movie, created by the folks at Laika who also brought you “Coraline,” tracks Norman, the only town inhabitant who knows what’s coming. At breakneck Martial speed, he gathers allies, finds the witch’s burial site and confronts the seven member of the death panel – each scarily rises from his own grave – who sent the witch to her death.
These visuals deliver the goods, but the movie’s jewel is Norman’s meeting and conversation – much of it heartbreaking – with the witch. The Neptunian theme of alternate realties expands into an exploration of the planet’s hallmark compassion and forgiveness. The climax doesn’t shy away from depicting what happens when Mars’ anger and Pluto’s desire for revenge gets locked down – in this case, for centuries – until the energy combo becomes literally explosive.
In the witch, Norman meets a like-minded counterpart – someone whose differences were so egregious and instigated such fear in the status quo that an execution sanctioned-by-law was the only solution.
Rating: ♆ (Neptune)