Oregon’s Laika studio, maker of fine “handcrafted animation,” was responsible for “Coraline,” simply the best stop-motion animated film of the past decade. It follows up with “ParaNorman,” another scary, silly and sweet Goth-lite fable that attempts to wrest the territory back from Tim Burton.
Raised in the peeling-paint New England town of Blithe Hollow, which milks its witch-hunting history for the tourist trade, 11-year-old Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) is regarded by his peers and family as a freak because — insert ominous orchestral hit here — he can see the dead! So when Norman warns everyone that the town’s 17th-century witch is coming back to enact some revenge, no one believes him. It’s up to Norman, his airhead sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), his chubby friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), doofus bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Neil’s jocky brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) to avert the undead apocalypse.
The stop-motion animation is flawless, the character design inspired (especially the zombies), and there are loads of in-jokes for horror-savvy parents watching with their kids. But the good jokes thin out towards the middle, and the ending is just way too preachy as it hammers home the “be more accepting of people who are different” theme. A good message for kids, perhaps, but this — like “Coraline” — may well be too scary for the youngest viewers.