ParaNorman is not only the best animated film I've seen this year, It's one of the best films of 2012, period. This stop-motion style movie, directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell (Flushed Away), fills a void left by Pixar's surprisingly disappointing Brave, released earlier this year. Finally Pixar's crown passes to the animators at LAIKA, who previously worked on Henry Selick's Academy Award-nominated Coraline.
ParaNorman is the story of Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a boy born with the ability to speak to the dead and foresee the terrible events of the future. When an ancient witch's curse threatens the Massachusetts town of Blithe Hollow, Norman is the only hope the once puritanical borough has for salvation.
The story here is much darker than your typical kids' fare, and I consider that to be a very good thing. The reason Brave failed is because it was too safe, falling too deeply into convention. The same cannot be said about ParaNorman; this macabre gem pushes the limits of a "kids' movie" from beginning to end.
Events in ParaNorman really rocked me emotionally, much in the same way a movie filled with live actors would. There's a sophisticated, unprecedented level of maturity to this animated feature, some of which is hard to describe without spoiling it.
ParaNorman skates around typical kids' movie themes, such as bullying, but ties them into a story about witch-hunting and mass hysteria. The town has gone mad with fear, and the citizens begin to channel their extremist roots. During the chaos only the children seem to keep their cool, despite being chased by hideous zombies.
This all may sound completely unacceptable for the kiddies, but I promise you that ParaNorman is still funny enough to hold their attention — it just also happens to be serious enough to earn yours.