Thursday, August 16, 2012

Zombified

ParaNorman       WWW Score: 74%

You'd think a 3D stop-motion animated film about a kid who's obsessed with old school zombie flicks and capable of talking to the undead would be right in my wheelhouse but there's something strangely disengaging about ParaNorman. Now it could be because the on-screen creations are miniature dolls, but know this: Rankin/Bass never made me feel so detached.

Set in the town of Salem Blithe Hollow on the 300th anniversary of their offing a witch, we meet Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a protruding-ears, plasticine replication of Haley Joel Osment - dude sees dead people. Naturally, that doesn't sit so well with his classmates, attracting the knuckles of the school's brainless bully, Alvin. But with a posse of the undead suddenly unleashed, Norman's popularity soars as his supernatural communicatory skills prove quite handy.

Our pompadoured protagonist - alongside his Paris Hilton doppleganger of a sister, the bully, a plus-sized pal and hefty's ripped brother - jumps into action, trying to save Salem Blithe Hollow from being wiped off the map by the zombies and the aforementioned witch. It culminates with Norman's interminable crisis-intervention with the emotionally-scarred witch; a scene that should carry the disclaimer: "May blow out the back of your retinas."

Co-director Sam Fell's script is blah; jokes repeatedly land with a thud. It's as if Fell stole every element from the zombie genre and tossed it into a blender with dull blades. He and his directing cohort Chris Butler can't seem to figure out what decade the film is set in. There's oodles of '80s elements: a tricked-out van, wood-paneled station wagon, radios with dials; but the twosome place the proceedings in modern day. The pair clearly have commitment issues.

From the makers of the Academy Award-nominated Coraline, ParaNorman doesn't deserve the same fate. While it's a technical wonder, there's little substantive value beyond the eye candy. Which is a real shame considering the clay the makers had to mold into something more memorable.