From the folks that gave us "Coraline" comes a new stop-motion animated movie, "ParaNorman."
Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a kid that loves old zombie movies. But that's not the most interesting thing about him: Norman has the ability to see and speak to the dead.
The movie uses that old cliché that the dead remain behind because they have unfinished business. Norman speaks to those that remain, and while that may seem cool, it isn't. This power makes Norman an outcast, a freak.
At school, Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) picks on Norman. Alvin isn't the brightest kid in school, but he uses bullying to stay on top of the social food chain.
Because Norman is an outcast, he has no friends. The only person that attempts to befriend him is Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) – himself an outcast because he is fat.
Neil thinks that Norman's power is cool, but being cool with the fat kid in class doesn't move you up in the popularity poll.
In the movie, Norman's town is famous for the hanging of a witch. About 300 years before, the town's leaders convicted a woman for being a witch. This is a source of pride and also economic gain for the townsfolk.
But the witch put a curse on the seven people responsible for her hanging. Norman has a weird uncle (John Goodman) who claims he is keeping the curse from being realized. In the course of the movie, the uncle dies and tells Norman how to prevent the curse.
At first, Norman fails and the curse is realized. So Norman sets off to find the witch and have the curse revoked.
"ParaNorman" is a beautiful movie. The use of the stop-motion animation makes one truly marvel at how hard it was to produce this movie. I saw it in 3-D, and it is a wondrous creation of filmmaking.
At first, the movie pays a lot of attention to Norman, his ability and how much his world is filled with the departed. But as the movie moves forward, that element is diminished and almost forgotten.
The story does have a strong moral aspect in that it speaks to the need for forgiveness and the power that forgiveness has.
It also explores the strength that comes when one believes that, even as an outcast, you are not alone. At a very critical point in the movie, Norman makes this clear.
"ParaNorman," a funny movie, will give parents a chance to talk about how forgiveness helps the one doing the forgiving. There will also be a chance to talk about the pressure on kids to fit in.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
Reviewer's note: "ParaNorman" is not a violent movie. It is classified as horror – and yes, there are zombies, but the zombies are not eating people. And the horror is not over the top; in fact, most of the horror is comedic in nature.
MPAA Rating: PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language.
Directors: Chris Butler and Sam Fell
Writer: Chris Butler
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee: Norman Babcock; Tucker Albrizzi: Neil; Christopher Mintz-Plasse: Alvin; John Goodman: Mr. Prenderghast; Elaine Stritch: Grandma; Jeff Garlin: Perry Babcock; Leslie Mann: Sandra Babcock.