tek's rating: ½

ParaNorman (PG)
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So. There's this 11-year-old boy named Norman, who lives in the small town of Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts. The movie begins with him watching a zombie movie on TV, with his grandmother. It's a little later that we learn his grandmother is dead, and Norman is the only one who can see and hear her. In fact, he regularly communicates with countless dead people, though no one believes him about this. Everyone just thinks he's a freak. His mother is understanding about it, even if it's unclear whether or not she actually believes. But his father is very annoyed about the whole thing, and wishes Norman would start acting... normal. Anyway, Norman doesn't have any living friends, and is a target for bullies (mainly a kid named Alvin). But early in the film he is befriended by a boy named Neil, who is another of Alvin's targets, because he's fat (among numerous other abnormalities). And they're both practicing for a school play about the settlers of their town, in the 18th century, who had executed a witch. And supposedly the witch had placed a curse on those who had sentenced her to death, so they themselves would rise from the grave as zombies. (Cheery stuff for a school play, yeah?)

Anyway, Norman has a weird uncle named Mr. Prenderghast, whom Norman isn't supposed to talk to. But the guy shows up and starts telling Norman that he can see ghosts, too, and that the witch's curse is real. Not long after that, Mr. Prenderghast dies, and his ghost appears to Norman, telling him about a ritual he must perform to prevent the curse from happening, which involves reading from a book (which Norman will have to pry from his uncle's dead hands), at the witch's grave. Norman is reluctant to do this, but he realizes he must. Unfortunately, the witch wasn't buried in the cemetery, so while he's there trying to read from the book, the dead folks she had cursed actually do rise from the grave. So, Norman runs away, along with Alvin (who had been present at the cemetery). And later, the two of them meet up with Neil and his older brother, Mitch, whom Norman's older sister, Courtney, had gone to in search of Norman, after he'd snuck out of the house while she was supposed to be watching him. So, now the five of them have to drive around town, eluding zombies and trying to figure out how to stop the curse. Meanwhile, the townsfolk turn into an angry mob, trying to kill the zombies.

For probably around two thirds of the movie, I was thinking I'd end up rating it with two or two and a half smileys. You know, it had decent animation (it looks more like CGI than stop-motion), and an interesting premise, and it was reasonably well-acted, and it had some funny bits. Not exactly laugh-a-minute, and some of the bits were only kind of funny, but there were also some that were rather clever, I thought. And then... it suddenly started to get more interesting, and deeper. There was a revelation about the zombies, but I'd seen that coming from the time they first appeared, so it wasn't a big deal to me. More importantly, there was a revelation about the witch that really threw me. And once I knew the truth about that... I don't want to say it became a whole new movie, but there was a noticeable shift. And everything that came after that was really well-played. Eventually there was an intense confrontation between Norman and the witch, the details of which I don't want to spoil, but... it started out with a very real sense of peril, and then suddenly turned more sweet, and sad. And happy. And ultimately I had to give the movie three and a half smileys (and I seriously considered four).

And... I guess there's not much more to say. Except of course all this leads to Norman developing a closer relationship with his family. Oh, and there's an offhand revelation about Mitch that was surprising and neat. And, um... yeah, that's all I can tell you. The bulk of the film is moderately interesting and amusing, and the rest of it is kind of awesome.


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