Young Norman enjoys chatting with the dead people he alone can see in his small New England town, even if his propensities for hanging with the not-quite-dead and watching zombie films haven't made him very popular at school. But things are about to break Norman's way in this gorgeously animated stop-motion comedy fable from Chris Butler and Sam Fell. (The film employs the same production company that made 2009's Coraline, with which this film shares a look and sensibility.)
Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) discovers that the town is under an ancient spell, and only by negotiating with the long-dead can the curse be lifted. The story is fairly simple — the quest and triumph of the outcast over the howling mob — so the film's pleasures are in its spooky visuals, amusingly created characters (like the high school jock with the grotesquely enlarged chest) and its indulgence in the cartoonishly macabre (stray body parts, corpses, murderous citizenry). The hand-crafted detail in the puppets and set details is also very charming.
The material, focused as it is on horror films, zombies and vengeful witches, may be too dark and scary for younger children. ParaNorman's quirky, slightly snarky charms are more likely appreciated by adults, particularly those who, like Norman, prefer their entertainment on the amusingly icky side.