Stop-motion animation is a tedious, time-consuming process, and the effort required to meticulously set up and move tiny models one frame at a time often lends the final result a feeling of handmade care. That’s certainly the case with ParaNorman, the second feature from stop-motion studio Laika, following 2009’s wonderful Coraline. ParaNorman isn’t quite as magically weird as Coraline, but it has plenty of appealing quirkiness surrounding its kid-friendly lessons about celebrating diversity.
The title character (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a misunderstood preteen outsider who can see and speak to ghosts, who are mostly friendly apparitions just looking for some company. But Norman’s town is subject to a witch’s curse handed down during the time of the Puritans, and when that witch awakens and starts to raise the dead, it’s up to Norman and his mismatched crew of frenemies (including his pudgy best friend, his stuck-up sister, a dim-witted jock and the local bully) to set things right.
ParaNorman is equal parts family comedy and horror spoof, with some genuinely creepy moments and clever, knowing references for horror fans. It delivers its message about appreciating differences while also telling an entertaining and unexpected story, and only falters by hammering that message home a little too hard in the final act. Even when it’s being a little didactic, though, ParaNorman is endlessly creative in its little visual details; it’s a major studio release with the charm and personality of a hand-crafted art project.