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A comedy for adults masquerading as a horror movie for children

Fighting ghouls, a witch and hundreds of years of prejudice is a tall order for Norman and a team of motley schoolmates. <<© Focus Features>>

Young Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee: Dead Europe) isn’t very popular with the living. He’s obsessed with zombies and horror movies, awkward with kids his own age and an embarrassment to his family. But he can talk to the dead, so he’s never alone. He spends his days chatting with his departed grandmother, petting the spirits of road kill and waving to the many dead souls that line the streets of his neighborhood.
    Norman lives in Blithe Hollow, a small town that’s proud of its witch-hanging history, advertised via tourist attractions, school pageants and a creepy statue in the town square. The witch, however, isn’t so happy about the town’s history. Annoyed that the townspeople still celebrate killing her, she has cursed the macabre hamlet, making the dead rise on her death anniversary.
    It’s up to Norman to stop this horrible curse. He isn’t thrilled about battling a witch, especially since the town thinks he’s a weirdo.
    Soon the sky goes purple with magic and colonial zombies escape their graves and shuffle townward. Chaos ensues as townspeople team up to take down these supernatural threats.
    Norman’s necromancing skills don’t seem so stupid to a town besieged by zombies. But fighting ghouls, a witch and hundreds of years of prejudice is a tall order for Norman and a team of motley schoolmates.
    ParaNorman is a comedy for adults masquerading as a horror movie for children. Older adult fans will laugh at clever references and the ghastly-good animation. You’ll see hockey masks, visual puns and musical cues that evoke great horror movies from eras gone by. The opening sequence in particular is a brilliant parody of cheap horror movies from the late 1970s.
    The only problem is that the characters are a bit underdeveloped. We get a good sense of Norman, but the people who surround him, especially his family, are one-dimensional. Only the witch and the zombies have multi-faceted personalities. Who knew that being dead helps you develop a personality?
    As for how scary the movie is for its intended audience, I brought in a panel of experts, my seven- and 10-year-old nephews. In their opinions, the zombies were awesome and Norman was cool. They assured me that the movie ­wasn’t scary at all, but both did stare wide-eyed during key creepy sequences. Other smaller viewers didn’t fare as well. At the first glimpse of decomposing claymation-flesh, a few families fled. Even the animation of townspeople, who all have blue-yellow flesh and ghoulish faces, seems designed to frighten smaller viewers.
    Still, if you think your younger ones can handle ghastly ghouls and a scary witch, ParaNorman has a great message. The film preaches tolerance and reason — even in the face of zombies.
    If you’re looking for a fun family movie that will keep your horror-obsessed teens as enthralled as your animation-junkie kids, ParaNorman is a great balance between horror humor and slapstick animation fun.

Good Animation • PG • 93 mins.