A likeable mix of The Sixth Sense, George A. Romero, Joe Dante and (in character terms) Spider-man, ParaNorman follows a young boy who can see dead people. Tasked with using his special ability to save all the locals who call him a freak, geeky outsider Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) has more than a few shades of Peter Parker about him, meaning his journey isn’t particularly new territory. But like the movie as a whole, though, he’s so endearing that it really doesn’t matter, while co-directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler deserve plenty credit for the charm and knowing wit with which they carry everything off.
Also deserving of some serious praise is the gorgeous and flawless stop-motion from Laika, the animation bods who made Coraline. Arguably, at times there’s more knockabout comedy than you’d like (which is likely as a result of having to play to the kidult market), but horror fans will love the sly, well-placed genre nods (including a great Halloween / Friday The 13th one-two punch and Jon Brion’s John Carpenter-ish score). Aside from the pun-tastic title, there are also a few inspired moments (such as the man waiting on his crisps dropping from a vending machine as zombies approach) and terrific sight gags, while the story is undeniably touching at times (see Norman’s sister taking his hand). In truth, it’s ultimately a touch too slight to be considered great, but the cast is great, with Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Anna Kendrick all playing amusingly against type.