After a great start, ‘ParaNorman’ gets sluggish

  • Thu Aug 16th, 2012 9:06am
  • Life

By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic

It’s a good thing “ParaNorman” is such a clever title, because “The Sixth Sense” was already taken. This is a film about a boy with one very special extrasensory power. His name is Norman, and he sees dead people.

A production of the Portland, Ore.-based animated studio Laika, “ParaNorman” seeks to inhabit that portion of the animated market generally given over to Tim Burton’s daydreams: It’s a macabre little comedy with a Halloween vibe.

Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an 11-year-old who can’t get his parents to accept the fact that he still watches TV with his late grandmother. An average stroll down the street for Norman is a receiving line of ghosts and witches, most of whom seem pretty cool with their condition.

But an ancient witch’s curse hangs over Norman’s small town, which leads into big-time 3-D adventure. He needs allies, and unfortunately that means he’s got his disapproving sister (Anna Kendrick) and his hapless buddy Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), who is proof that even a misfit kid like Norman can find someone slighter weirder than he is.

The character design in this film is pretty great. The various zombies and ghouls look good, of course (and we might note the PG rating, which translates into: Some little kids will be freaked out by this).

The regular characters are ingenious too, such as the sculpted, lantern-jawed prom king (Casey Affleck), whose brain is dwarfed by his biceps, or the school bully (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who looks like he got dropped on his head at a tender age.

For a while, this is enough to keep “ParaNorman” buzzing along, especially if you have a fondness for the spooky stuff.

I’m not sure why the movie seems less urgent as it goes along, but I had the same reaction to “Coraline,” Laika’s 2009 production, which started off like a classic but suffered in the stretch from a lack of oomph.

“ParaNorman” was produced in stop-motion animation, which involves puppets that move in teeny-tiny increments. It’s a wonderful style, although in truth it’s become hard to distinguish this technique from very adept computer-generated animation.

Animated movies should create a world. Whatever sluggishness affects “ParaNorman,” I can’t deny it successfully creates its small-town world, a charming little place, where every day is like a trip to the twilight zone.

“ParaNorman” (2½ stars)

From the animators of “Coraline,” another macabre little tale about a lad who sees dead people: ghosts and zombies fill his vision. Great idea and fun animation, although the story, about Norman’s quest to stave off a witch’s curse, is oddly sluggish in the telling.

Rated: PG, for subject matter.

Showing: Alderwood, Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Olympic.Stanwood, Meridian, Oak Tree, Sundance, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.