Interesting ideas don't always make for great movies (this statement probably comes as no shock, but it remains true). The notion behind ParaNorman is unquestionably interesting, however, the end result leaves more than a little something to be desired.
When I first saw trailers for ParaNorman, I was intrigued – here's a stop-motion animation film that has to do with zombies. Is this kids' fare? Is it for adults? Is it a little bit of both? Having watched the Chris Butler and Sam Fell directed movie, I can now tell you that it is indeed a little bit of horror and a little bit of family fare, but it's a mix that doesn't work.
The film's hero, Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), is a middle-schooler who, and without any clear acknowledgment on ParaNorman's part, is Haley Joel Osment's character from The Sixth Sense. To paraphrase the now well-worn saying, he sees dead people. In fact, he doesn't just see dead people, he interacts with them, talks to them, and he understands that often when the dead walk the Earth they do so because they have unfinished business.
Norman soon finds himself off on a mission, Goonies-style, with his obnoxious older sister, Courtney (Anna Kendrick); his sort-of friend, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi); Neil's older brother, Mitch (Casey Affleck), who Courtney has the hots for; and the school bully, Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Their quest is simple – read a book at a dead witch's grave so that her curse of bringing the dead back to life won't come to pass.
You wouldn't think that a stop-motion film about zombies could border on the dull, but somehow ParaNorman does just that. Once the wonder at the technical and creative wizardry involved wears off (about five minutes in, but make no mistake, the film is incredible on a visual level), all that's left for the viewer is this uncomfortable story. Are we supposed to find this funny? Are we supposed to be scared? Are we supposed to understand that the plot is something of a Frankenstein's monster of other films – a few bits of this one and a few bits of that one and a few bits of the other, all sewn together? In the end, it is funny at times, it is scary at times, and it most certainly is a bunch of other movies stitched into a single cloth.