ParaNormanThursday 13 Sep 2012
Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill, Jodelle Ferland, Tempestt Bledsoe
Duration: 92 minutes
For many of us it began more than 30 years ago, when childhood Saturday nights were all about one thing: the horror double bills on BBC Two (revel in the classics, ask a grown-up to go up the stairs first afterwards). Graduates from this school would spend the Eighties watching VHS tapes of varying quality (and legitimacy) and building fortifications from Starburst, Fangoria and Deep Red issues in bedrooms. Today, they're all about directors' commentaries and the tyranny of choice that comes with terror in torrents but inevitably find themselves poking around the dusty old rooms of the good old days in their heads, perhaps remembering those who aren't around anymore to share in the fun.
If you're one of these people then ParaNorman is going to bring a pumpkin-sized nostalgia lump to the throat. And if you're not, don't worry: while you mightn't get some of the in-jokes and references, this story of how one lonely, geeky kid has to find it within himself to become the hero in his own life has a resonance for everyone - whether their feet touch the floor in a cinema seat or not (although the very young might be a bit scared).
Horror-obsessed Norman (Smit-McPhee) spends his days watching the undead, ghouls and spirits on TV and talking to one of the latter in his home - Grandma's (Stritch) been gone a few years but for Norman she's still providing the running commentary from her favourite spot on the couch. Outside, it's a similar story for the furry-browed youngster as more of Grandma's next world neighbours - deceased pilots, concrete shoes-wearing gangsters, much-missed family pets - greet him on his way to school. Truth be told, they're the only friends he has in Blithe Hollow, a small town that makes its money from tourists and rather sordid events from 1712 involving a witch.
It's those events that come back to haunt the town - literally - 300 years later when one misfit is tasked with squaring the past with the present. Now, who's going to believe him and, more importantly, help him?
What a great feeling to come out of a movie knowing that you're going to enjoy watching it again, and this (monster) mash-up of funny, sad and spooky will stand the test of time. Written with a fan's heart by director Butler, ParaNorman has gorgeous stop-motion visuals, excellent gags ("I think they're trying to eat our brains!"; "I think you're safe"), no-yawn pacing and life lessons from the dead that never get old. On the one hand, it's a movie that allows Butler to celebrate the classics that fired him up - The Fog, The Evil Dead, Halloween and lots more - but it also emphasises the need for tolerance and community, reminding us that we're all afraid of the dark in some way. Like the best of the source genre, there's no need for a sequel because there's so much to feast on here and, really, isn't the follow-up you putting this movie's message into action when you get outside the cinema?
Let's call it Norman Wisdom - and hope the pun doesn't have too many spinning in their graves.