Halloween specials are as much of a holiday tradition as trick or treating. However, when I was a kid, I got specials like “Casper”, “Halloween Town”, “Hocus Pocus” and “The Haunted Mansion”, and while those were still fun to watch, they were never that smart. The Halloween specials of today’s generation like “Coraline”, “Corps Bride” and “Monster House” are much smarter and have so much more imagination behind them and this recent Halloween special titled “ParaNorman”, is yet another brilliant horror movie for kids.
The premise goes like this, Norman is an abnormal child that has a sixth sense and can see the spirits of people who have had untimely demise. Because of this, he shuts himself out from the world, hides in his bedroom fool of monster decorations and he’s constantly picked on at school. Then one night a 300 year old witch’s curse falls upon the town and a bunch of zombies burst out of there graves, terrorizing the civilians and now it’s up to Norman to use his special abilities to save the town. It’s a basic set up, but the back story behind these events, this curse and Normans sixth sense is brilliant, this might just be one of the most solidly scripted Halloween specials I’ve ever seen. The reveal of this quote unquote witch and her curse is a very unexpected and a very special reveal that allowed me to get fully invested in this story on both an excited level and dare I say a surprisingly emotional level. I dare not spoil any more of the back story than that because take my word for it, this is some really good writing.
The pacing is great, everything’s fast paced, lots of cool action scenes and it all leads to a thrilling climax with lots of really cool visuals. The stop motion animation is outstanding, there’s such a simple charm that comes from looking at all these cool effects and knowing that most of them were actual props made to perform in front of the camera. There’s a little moment after the credits were they show how long it took to just created the Norman puppet, I can’t even begin to imagine all the dedicated hours or even months that it most have taken to just create a single scene. It’s really a wonderful form of art and I’m so pleased to see that films with this animation technique are still getting audiences in the theater.
So with this movies ingenious back story, good leading character and awesome visual style and effects, you might expect me to label this as one of the three greatest Halloween specials of all time right, well, almost. It’s definitely amongst some the best but there are still some problems with this film, most especially the side characters. These extras are so hammy, so over the top, so annoying and so generic that they constantly clash with all the good writing that this film has to offer. Most of them are obvious stereotypes that we’ve seen a billion times before, we have the bully that always acts tough and mean, but screams like a little girl whenever something dangerous comes along, we have the stereotypical blond girl that always talks like this “Ya, whatever, I’m totally not doing that.” Then there’s this big guy who’s gay and a crazy Plummer that’s just way to over the top and some of the hummer is a little too adult. There’s some swearing, some innuendoes and usually it’s stuff that I ignore, but when a film has a script this good, it really needs to tone down the hammy jokes. To be fare, there are some genuinely funny moments and I do like this one fat kid that’s Normans best friend, sure he’s a stereotype too, but he’s still fairly likable and has some good lines. My favorite line is when he tries to be Normans friend but Norman explains that he prefers to be alone, too which the friend responds by saying “So do I, let’s do it together”, that’s hilarious and cute.
Despite the films annoying side characters, the story is still very good, it’s plenty entertaining and if you’re one of those guys that still have a nostalgic fondness for Halloween, this film will definitely make you feel young again and take you back to wonderful time from childhood, when Halloween was awesome. I give “ParaNorman” 3 ½ stars.