When Gremlins 2: The New Batch came out, I received as a gift the book written that was based on the movie. I hadn't yet seen it, but I did already have an unnatural fear of its predecessor Gremlins, which I had seen and made me very upset. So naturally, I assumed the book was evil and that just owning it would summon Gremlins into my house. I hid it in the farthest corner of the basement and didn't find it until years later. And it still gave me the willies. Let's put it this way, if you're still reading--when someone gives me the ParaNorman DVD, I might consider doing the same thing.
Anyone who has been treated to the haunting fantasy world of Coraline knows that it was pretty darn stunning and visionary. As it turns out, it was just the beginning. From the same creators, ParaNorman is set among what, by day, is a normal town, albeit a little more angular and looming than usual (kind of like a sinister Dr. Seuss creation). The townsfolk also have a real obsession with/hatred of witches, which is tied to their troubled history of violence, angst, and sadness that would make Shakespeare cheer. And yes, to answer your question, this is an animated film. Proceed with caution…
Norman is a little kid that talks to ghosts, which naturally makes him unpopular among the middle school crowd. Apparently being a medium is something that people don't come to appreciate until you're old enough to star in your own SyFy show. So Norman focuses on the friends he does have, which includes his (dead) grandmother, a (dead) airplane pilot, a (dead) soldier, etcetera. Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) is another outcast, but he has a much healthier attitude about being bullied. He befriends Norman just in time for things to fall apart. Norman's crazy Uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman), who was ostracized from the community for having the same abilities Norman has, warns Norman that only he can stop the curse of the witch that everyone keeps talking about. Cue the angry, cloudy skies a la Ghostbusters, and the stream of relentless zombies. This little kid has his hands full.
Something that Laika studios has really nailed is bringing in talent to create these horrifically beautiful movies that border on inappropriate for the audience they seem to be intended for. Neil Gaiman wrote the original Coraline book, but dare I say, Chris Butler actually outdoes him with ParaNorman. Not only is the movie adorable when it focuses on a cute little loner who likes horror movies (he has a skeleton-hand alarm clock! Awwww), but it gets really scary when the undead rise. It also manages to teach a surprisingly powerful lesson about being judgmental and fearing what you don't understand--of course, the delivery of those lessons are where the movie gets most bogged down, but it's doing it while presenting you with unparalleled visuals, so it's easy to overlook.
This is one of those animated films that better make Pixar look over its shoulder. Although I think its PG rating might be a little low based on how intense the scary stuff is, it's one of the best horror-comedies I have ever seen, second only to Cabin in the Woods this year. And the ending is a visual breakthrough in animation that will leave you simultaneously disturbed and unable to look away. ParaNorman is one to own...and since I don't have a basement to hide it in, I will just have to hope I mature enough by the time it's released for the small screen.