I had heard next to nothing about ParaNorman when I went into the cinema. I knew it was about a boy who could see ghosts, and that it was created using stop motion animation. Having watched Frankenweenie recently, I had my fingers crossed that it would at least be as good as Tim Burton’s latest work. As far as horror themed stop-motion movies go, ParaNorman blows Frankenweenie out of the water! I watched it once on Friday, and again on Saturday. If that’s not an indication of excellence, I don’t know what is!

ParaNorman is the story of Norman, a young boy who lives in Blithe Hollow and can see and talk to ghosts. The problem is that everyone (who isn’t a ghost) thinks Norman is either attention seeking or crazy. Norman has gotten used to being the abnormal outcast and does his best to get by. He spends his time watching horror movies on TV, and talking to his dead Grandma. Life carries on as normal for Norman, until one day he starts to see other strange things. Perhaps these visions have something to do with the 300 year anniversary of the death of a witch, and the curse she cast upon the townsfolk who took her life?

This year has been good in terms of stop-motion animated features, with both Frankenweenie and ParaNorman being released. ParaNorman is brought to us by Laika studios, the studio behind Coraline, and makes use of the latest and greatest stop-motion techniques. ParaNorman does look better in comparison to Frankenweenie, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this is because of it’s higher budget. Frankenweenie’s total production budget was $39 million, while ParaNorman had a slightly higher (relatively speaking) budget of $60 million. I’m glad the creators of ParaNorman dug a little deeper into their (or the studios) pockets as there really is some fantastic animation, and some really great cinematography in the visuals. I never really talk about the cinematography in movies, so it was a bit strange that I was watching the movie and certain shots just leapt out and had me thinking “Wow! Look at the framing on that shot!” or “Man, that’s some great composition!”.

The story in ParaNorman is extremely well paced, and manages to keep us interested with a couple of genuinely unexpected twists. These are used to great effect, either in terms of horror or comedy. There are also connections that are revealed as the story unfolds and I have to take my hat off to the writers for doing such a splendid job on this movie’s plot. Without giving anything away, the ending of this movie is particularly good. Not many movies have left me with such a great feeling of satisfaction.

The characters in this movie are also great, and it keeps on surprising with little reveals that either have you laughing or going all gooey inside. I can’t think of a single character that is wasted, and you really end up empathising with not only Norman, but a few other characters that you wouldn’t expect to. There isn’t really much to fault with any of the characters, or how they develop. My only “problem” is that for some reason Norman’s friend Neil reminded me a lot of the little kid Russel from Up. This might just have been me though.

I have to talk briefly about the character designs, as there are some really great touches in the regards to how the puppets are designed. Appearances can be deceiving in ParaNorman, which helps make this movie really funny or scary depending on the character. The character designers also manage to take an existing and well established idea and do something completely new with it. I’d be damned if their new idea wasn’t far more effective than the stereotype I’d gotten used to! (Please forgive me about being vague, but I really don’t want to ruin it for you).

And what would a horror movie be without great sound? Probably not very scary. Thankfully, ParaNorman doesn’t have to worry about this since the sound designers for the movie clearly put a ton of effort in and it can be clearly seen (or heard in this case). A scene will start off silent and the sound will slowly build as the tension picks up, brains that are stuck to feet sound suitably disgusting, and the music is just to die for (sorry, I just couldn’t resist).

Movie Rating: ParaNorman is an animated movie that has great visuals, great characters, and an interesting story. It succeeds in being full of heart and laughter, but at the same time is also genuinely scary. I’m not talking about The Exorcist kind of scary, but you will find there are scenes that will just creep you out. As I mentioned earlier, I watched this movie twice in two days, which is something I haven’t done in a long, long time (the last time I remember doing this was for The Incredibles). Taking that into account, it’s probably pretty safe to say this is my favourite of the year (so far).

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