There's a tricky line when it comes to making scary animated movies. If they're cartoonish enough for young moviegoers to enjoy, then they tend to lack enough edge to satisfy older viewers. But if they're too scary, then they can give young moviegoers nightmares.
"ParaNorman" tries to serve both sides, and in the process, comes up short on both counts.
Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) can see dead people. Most of the time he keeps his ability to chat with the dearly departed a secret. That changes when a group of zombies threatens the city. Norman inherits the job of city protector, but he gets the role with no official training. Yet he must handle the walking dead or the town is doomed.
What directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell have created is a tale with the driving theme that it's OK to be different. This film achieves that with its look and design.
Computer-generated animation has become the norm in features, but "ParaNorman" bucks that trend. It was produced through the traditional form of stop animation where small figures are posed, photographed and moved a small amount to create the illusion of movement.
There's something about the hands-on approach that makes it easier to be drawn into this world.
But once drawn in, the story is rather thin. The filmmakers rely on excessively long action sequences to fill time, particularly with the finale.
The voice casting is solid but not memorable.
Of the chattering talents -- that include Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Jeff Garlin and Christopher Mintz-Plasse -- only Mintz-Plasse brings the kind of original sound that makes his character different. The rest end up a generic verbal stew.
For those who elect to see "ParaNorman," they will be treated to a visual feast. The craftsmanship is spectacular and the look amazing.
But even with such a solid look, it's hard to imagine who will enjoy this film: It's way too scary for little kids but not scary enough for teens.
"ParaNorman" is a weird film paradox. It's like seeing a ghost wearing a designer dress. It looks good but comes up short on substance.
"ParaNorman," rated PG for scary images. Stars the voice talents of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Jeff Garlin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell. Running time: 93 minutes. Grade: B- Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
"ParaNorman," rated PG for scary images. Stars the voice talents of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Jeff Garlin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell. Running time: 93 minutes. Grade: B-
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.