-CAUTION: spoilers ahead-
ParaNorman is one of those movies that really turned me off when I first heard about it. There's a couple of others, but I'll get to those in a second. First off, I want to get something very problematic out of the way - I do have a bit of bias against this movie. One of the characters, Norman's father, reminds me of someone I have a very, very personal grudge with. I couldn't stand his character, and I spent every second of him on screen, hoping he'd be torn to pieces. But, since this is a family movie, that never happens.
1: The characters.
I've heard that all of the characters are likable. Almost lovable. I've found four that I personally enjoyed, and the rest were stereotypes of stereotypes. Even three of the characters I ended up enjoying were cliched to death. You have Norman, the freak hero, Neil, the cheerful friend, Courtney, the cheerleader sister, Mitch, the dumb jock and Alvin, the dumb bully. Those are our heroes. Three of them treat Norman like crap throughout the movie.
The other characters in Norman's family are his father, who almost seems like he hates Norman, his mother, who appears to be a hippie and his deceased grandmother, the only one in his family who actually cares and gives him good advice.
Next up is Uncle Prenderghast, or as I like to call him, Uncle Goodman, since he's voiced by the always great John Goodman. Unlike the others, I was really disappointed in this guy. The trailers show him to be the funniest character in the entire movie...when in reality, he's more paranoid than Dale Gribble from King of the Hill. That's saying a lot. Again, this makes him very, very unlikable.
Last character to talk about is Aggie Prenderghast, the villain. I've bashed almost all the characters in the movie so far, but I mean it when I say that in her short screen time, Aggie commands attention. The best written, the best animated (her flickering appearance puts chills in my spine and a grin on my face,) and arguably the best-voiced.
Speaking of, while I couldn't stand most of these characters, the voice actors did amazing. There is nothing to complain about. But, I will note that Jeff Garlin's voice seemed a more than little scratchy near the end. I ended up worried that his throat would give out, even though he voiced my least favorite character.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the controversial gay joke at the end of the movie. There's many ways it could've been done better. Maybe Courtney could've found out via looking at his cell-phone or email, many women have done that. Also, the way it is, it feels extremely tacked on, not to mention the fact that it leaves Courtney with little chatacter development and Mitch with NONE.
2: The Story.
And, much like the characters, the STORY is cliched to death as well! Well, up until the third act, that is. To be fair, I really do understand that the story was meant to play on the cliches of old horror movies. But, when you can sum it up in a line like "An outcast who talks to the dead must save the town from zombies," it makes you feel like you've heard the plotline for three movies in one. I think of the Sixth Sense, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Mean Girls and (insert zombie movie here.)
The real plotline is as follows: A boy who has family issues as well as social issues, due to him being able to talk with the deceased, is called upon to rescue the town from zombies that were raised due to a witch's ghost that wasn't pacified in time.
Then the third act comes in. Now, there are hints scattered throughout the first two acts that lead to this, which really makes it all that much better in my honest opinion. The third act turns it into a redemption tale about bullying and being different. The zombies were the townspeople of Blythe Hollow (the town the movie is set in) who were responsible in the execution of a very young Aggie Prenderghast, a girl who had the same ability as Norman and was branded as a witch because of it.
Aggie's spirit was consumed with rage at the betrayal of her townspeople to the point that her ghost became so powerful that she could perform terrifying acts, like raise the dead. She wasn't a witch, just misunderstood.
My least favorite moments in the movie actually come from a police officer, one out of sheer stupidity - seriously, how can she make full-impact dents in a van while riding a SCOOTER?! - and one out of sheer ignorance. "What are you doing, shooting at civilians?! That is for the POLICE to do!" I hate that line so very much...
Is the movie perfect? Far, far from it. But, it actually has some charm and quality to it. If you're going to watch it, try to go into it with as open a mind as you can, as I really had a lot of troubles doing so. You may find much more enjoyment in the movie than I did.