You'd think a 3D stop-motion animated film about a kid who's obsessed with old school zombie flicks and capable of talking to the undead would be right in my wheelhouse but there's something strangely disengaging about ParaNorman
. Now it could be because the on-screen creations are miniature dolls, but know this: Rankin/Bass never made me feel so detached.
Set in the town of Salem
Blithe Hollow on the 300th anniversary of their offing a witch, we meet Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a protruding-ears, plasticine replication of Haley Joel Osment - dude sees dead people. Naturally, that doesn't sit so well with his classmates, attracting the knuckles of the school's brainless bully, Alvin. But with a posse of the undead suddenly unleashed, Norman's popularity soars as his supernatural communicatory skills prove quite handy.
Our preternatural protagonist - alongside his Paris Hilton doppleganger of a sister, the bully, a plus-sized pal and hefty's ripped brother - jumps into action, trying to save Salem
Blithe Hollow from being wiped off the map by the zombies and the aforementioned witch. It culminates with Norman's interminable crisis-intervention with the emotionally-scarred witch; a scene that should carry the disclaimer: "May blow out the back of your retinas."
Co-director Chris Butler's script is blah, jokes repeatedly land with a thud. It's as if Butler stole every element from the zombie genre and tossed it into a blender with dull blades. He and his directing cohort Sam Fell can't seem to figure out what decade the film is set in. There's oodles of '80s elements: a tricked-out van, wood-paneled station wagon, radios with dials; but the twosome place the proceedings in modern day. The pair clearly have commitment issues.
From the makers of the Academy Award-nominated Coraline
doesn't deserve the same fate. While it's a technical wonder, there's little substantive value beyond the eye candy. Which is a real shame considering the clay the makers had to mold into something more memorable.