Balancing act misses mark
General release (93 minutes)
AFTER Tim Burton's Frankenweenie, this is the second recent stop-motion 3D horror-comedy in which a precocious youngster enrages his narrow-minded neighbours by crossing the border between life and death.
Blessed or cursed with the ability to see ghosts, Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) has trouble fitting into Blithe Hollow, a New England town proud of its witch-burning past.
Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell, ParaNorman has Burton's self-conscious weirdness but also suggests the kind of thing Gus Van Sant might do if he decided to dabble in family entertainment. The dominant colour is a sickly greenish-brown, and the camera dwells on simulated textures of decay: tumbledown fences, flaking paint, dead leaves strewn across gravel.
There are many promising elements here, including a group of distinctive voice actors effectively cast against type - Casey Affleck as a jock, Anna Kendrick as a seeming airhead - as if to hint that people are more complex than they first appear.
But as a whole the film doesn't quite work. Credited to Butler alone, the convoluted script struggles with the tricky task of balancing humour, pathos and menace while satisfying children and adults.
Maybe there's a way that ghosts and zombies can fit logically into the same supernatural universe, but it seems like overkill to me. And for all the moralising about the evils of bigotry, this is yet another children's film (like Pixar's Brave) that can be taken as an awful warning to little girls who try to fight back.