For all the ghostly hauntings, zombie uprisings and witching ways of “ParaNorman,” it is the irreverent spirit of the classic 1985 film “The Goonies” that most strongly pervades the animated feature.
A 3-D stop-motion horror-comedy for kids — it's not suited for most preschoolers but youngsters who survive the terrors of elementary school bus rides can handle it — “ParaNorman” is a throwback in more ways than one. In the age of helicopter parenting, it actually allows young characters to experience a harrowing adventure without adult supervision, it dares to dole out genuine supernatural scares along with real-life frights and it has the nerve to introduce dryly cheeky British humor that doesn't originate from a toilet or a tired pop culture reference.
The story may get a bit muddled, but writer/co-director Chris Butler deserves kudos for taking risks with children's fare that aren't often seen in cinemas anymore.
The latest 3-D stop-motion project from Laika, the Portland, Ore.-based studio that made the similarly dark 2009 fantasy-horror feature “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” is set in the small, shabby hamlet of Blithe Hollow, where the denizens keep the local economy alive by exploiting the town's frightful past, particularly the spooky lore about a witch hunt that happened there 300 years ago.
For a community of such macabre tastes, the townsfolk are surprisingly intolerant of 11-year-old Norman Babcock (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee), who can actually see and talk to ghosts. He's not exactly haunted by his supernatural gift: He and his long-deceased grandmother (Elaine Stritch) while away Saturday afternoons watching old zombie movies together, and Norman's walks to school involve friendly chats with the assorted specters hanging around town.
But Norman's family — his loudmouth father (Jeff Garlin), flaky mother (Leslie Mann) and superficial older sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) — are uncomfortable with or downright hostile about the boy's singular abilities. At school, he is dubbed “Abnorman” or worse and is the favorite target of resident bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). The perpetually cheerful and loyal Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), a fellow outcast because of his rotund appearance, is Norman's only real friend, or at least the only one who is still breathing.