A stop-motion animation feature about a misunderstood young boy who sees dead people, ParaNorman comes across as a mash-up of Coraline (it's from the same animation studio, LAIKA), The Sixth Sense, and any number of Spielbergian kid-posse adventure movies.
Visually, it's excellent. This style of animation, already more two-dimensional and tactile than standard computer animation, works particularly well in 3-D. And the film is dotted with emblems of cool and interesting, from the design (the scratched-celluloid look of an old horror film Norman watches in the opening scene, askew camera angles, really snazzy closing credits) to the soundtrack (White Stripes' "Little Ghost," Dizzee Rascal's "Fix Up, Look Sharp") to the voice cast (Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann).
But the story — about a witch's curse in Norman's Salem-esque hometown — and script are more mundane than you might hope. The action is familiar, and the characters are types — even the attempts to break from type are too self-consciously clever and telegraphed.
While ParaNorman is from the same animation studio as Coraline, it isn't from the same filmmakers, and the difference between the two is the difference between art and craft, with ParaNorman lacking the creativity and refined feel for childhood sensitivities of Coraline. This film's social detail is coarser, and its horror elements too often settle for gross rather than creepy. The result is a work that's a slight cut above the animated-feature mean but nothing more.
Opens Friday, August 17th, at multiple locations