With Aardman, Henry Selick and Tim Burton currently the main guys still pushing stop-motion animation forward in a big way, I was surprised to learn that ParaNorman is not actually by any of them. From Sam Fell, who brought you The Tale Of Despereaux and Flushed Away (both of which I personally wasn't too keen on), with co-director/writer Chris Butler being one of Coraline's main art peeps, it looks like the stop-motion masters finally have some new competition in town.
ParaNorman is a supernatural horror/comedy which takes the familiar "I see dead people" scenario and gives it a fresh, yet very much retro, makeover. As a matter of fact, the film kicks off with a Grindhouse-style fake horror B movie trailer which sets the tone beautifully. It's a shame the film softens a bit when it actually gets going but that's not to say that it forgets its dark and twisted roots. Far from it. Check out that scene where Norman is trying to take some book which his uncle's corpse is clinging onto, it end with the latter's dead tongue flopping down onto the kid's face. Gruesome. The look of the zombies throughout is also a bit grim: they're pretty scary-lookin', I could see kids getting mini-nightmares from these guys. They make those dead dudes from Corpse Bride look positively cuddly!
ParaNorman is at its best when it becomes more of an adult-friendly horror comedy. It does attempt to have a heart and tell a simple story kids could understand and that's fair enough but those parts just don't feel as convincing as the rest. You can tell the animators really wanted to make a stop-motion gore-fest but were restrained by the fear of losing a big chunk of their audience. Which, again, is fair enough. This is a great kids movie, though: it's fun, colorful, brilliantly animated, clever and a safe bet if you want to sit the kiddos down in front of a random flick for Halloween.
That said, it does bear more than a little resemblance to the likes of Monster House, Coraline and Corpse Bride, all of which I'd say are arguably that little bit better in that they felt more unique somehow and ParaNorman's script sometimes fails to be quite as funny or as touching as it was attempting to be. There are some fab moments throughout, don't get me wrong: the zombies finding out the hard way that the townspeople have evolved into a pretty ruthless bunch, that crazy-ass uncle and a really cool witch scene near the end, all great.
Overall, ParaNorman is a good animated flick but I have a feeling that Frankenweenie will come and make everyone forget about it somehow. It lacks something truly special to elevate it above the aforementioned bunch of animated flicks but for a non-Burton/Selick effort: this is a fantastic achievement.