Zombie comedy is a small but rich film genre that is usually inaccessible to the pre-teen crowd — we don’t recommend, for instance, “Shaun of the Dead” for 8-year-olds.
“ParaNorman,” however, can serve as a lively and inventive undead starter film for children.
Made by the people who created “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” utilizes the same stop-motion animation technique. It’s not as visually arresting as the earlier film, and it lacks the depth of character, too, but it’s still a humorous and mostly satisfying ride.
The movie tells the tale of Norman, a spooky middle schooler who sees — and talks to — dead people in a Salem-like small town best known for its witch-burning heritage.
Voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee (who was good in the very creepy live-action vampire flick “Let Me In”), Norman, sporting hair that naturally stands on end, has trouble making friends with people who are actually living.
Norman’s surly father (Jeff Garlin) and worried mother (Leslie Mann) wish he would act normal, instead of having conversations on the couch with his dead grandmother. His shallow and dismissive older sister (Anna Kendrick) would just like him to go away.
Norman has one tenuous friend, chubby dimwit Neil (why must the chubby kids always be dimwitted?), but they’re going to need more help if they’re going to save the town of Blithe Hollow from an ancient curse and an invasion of frightening zombies.
“ParaNorman” doesn’t go the celebrity-voice route, for the most part, though there are a few mildly familiar voices in the cast, including John Goodman as a crazy uncle, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Superbad”) as an extremely thick-skulled bully and Tempestt Bledsoe (“The Cosby Show”) as an overzealous motorcycle cop. Casey Affleck voices Neil’s body-building older brother.
Visually, the characters have a plastic doll-ish look, but the zombies are entertainingly gruesome, in a comic sort of way. The film has plenty of humor overall, though it runs out of steam in the latter stages.
“ParaNorman” falls short of classic status, but it has enough fresh ideas to earn a positive recommendation from both veteran and rookie zombie watchers.
Rental recommendation: “Coraline” was also creepy and clever, and made by the same people who created “ParaNorman.”
Email Steve Ouellette: firstname.lastname@example.org