I saw ParaNorman in 3D the other day. He’s my short review.
The animation was incredible. I have never seen stop-motion so fluid and life-like; it was beautiful. They even got blubberous body fat to move realistically (well, realistically for a stop-motion puppet). After seeing so much pure-CGI, it’s so refreshing to see not only something with a different texture, but something that really pushes the state of the art forward. The bar for stop-motion animation has just been set quite high.
The humor was a bit raunchy for me, which is quite odd for PG movie. But references to or mentions of irritable bowels, diarrhea fascination, f-word swearing, itchy genitals, same-sex relationships, steroid use, butt-sniffing, butt-pausing, butt-grabbing, and more just seemed awkwardly out of place, as if the filmmakers were either trying too hard to be "edgy" or just had awkwardly dirty minds.
The story itself was a mix of weak and strong elements. The opening scenes, establishing the character of Norman and his abilities to see and talk to the dead, were wonderful. It was easy to become immediately sympathetic to him. Also wonderful were the film’s final scenes, when Norman faces the antagonist face to face and sets things right. I thought it was powerful and touching.
That said, the rest of the movie felt like a lot of boring filler. Nothing very important seems to happen between the opening and the climax, and just about all the characters except for Norman and his Grandmother are portrayed as extremely and annoyingly stupid.
Norman’s parents especially made no sense. The father hates that Norman claims to be able to talk to ghosts, but why it makes him so angry is unexplained, so we can’t relate to him. (And why doesn’t Norman keep his ability a secret in the first place? I don’t know.) The mother tries her best calm the tension between her husband and her son, but she has no real insight to offer. At one point, after the father erupts in anger and storms off, the mother says to Norman something like: "Sometimes when people are scared, they say things that can seem really mean." Normal replies: "He’s my dad, he shouldn’t be scared of me." The mother replies: "He’s not scared of you, he’s scared for you." Does she mean: "He’s scared that you might be just as crazy as you sound"? That’s how it comes across to me, and I don’t know how saying that could possibly help the situation. What the mother should’ve said is: "Look, Norman, if you can really talk to ghosts, you’ll just have to understand that since most people can’t, they will find the idea that someone can to be crazy. You’ll have to accept that and live with it." The father, unfortunately, just seemed unsympathetically crazy.
Finally, the voice work was great for the most part, but it felt like some characters, especially Norman, had trouble with the more energetic lines, as if they were afraid to raise their voices. It made some parts a bit annoying because the timidity of the voice didn’t match the energy of the animation.
Overall, the film was a mix. I can’t judge it overall. It had some really wonderful elements mixed with some really awful elements.