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Originally published Thursday, August 16, 2012 at 12:04 AM

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'ParaNorman' is a whimsical tale brought meticulously to life

"ParaNorman," a stop-motion animated comedy directed by Sam Fell and Chris Buttler and featuring the voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck and others, is a whimsical tale brought meticulously to life, writes Seattle Times movie critic in this three-star review. The film is playing at several Seattle area theaters.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'ParaNorman,' with the voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch. Directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler, from a screenplay by Butler. 101 minutes. Rated PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language. Several theaters.

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Much of the fun of the stop-motion animated comedy "ParaNorman" lies in the whimsical physical detail of its characters. Norman, the skinny 11-year-old at the center of the story, has ears like saucers and hair that stands up on end, as if he's been permanently shocked. His father has a cavernous, balloonlike stomach encased in plaid; his friend Neil sports a tiny nose and mouth dwarfed by a majestic, chest-reaching chin. (He looks like he might grow up to become another famous Norman: Norm, from "Cheers.") Mitch, Neil's dudely brother, has a rectangular jawline so sharp you could slice cheese with it; an attribute not lost on Norman's sister Courtney, a wide-eyed teen fond of bubblegum-pink lip gloss.

But this crew doesn't have much time to dwell on physical characteristics and teenage flirtation. Their working-class town is the subject of a centuries-old curse, with zombies emerging from their graves — and Norman, who has an uncanny ability to talk to ghosts, is the only one who can save the day.

"ParaNorman," from many of the same artists who made the wonderfully quirky "Coraline," suffers from some plot problems. The story feels familiar (and better suited to a Halloween-season release), and the movie seems to end a few too many times. But it's a pleasure to listen to the motley crew of voice talent (particularly the foghorn-toned Elaine Stritch as a ghost grandma, and the perfectly slurred teenspeak of Anna Kendrick as Courtney) and watch the witty invention of the stop-motion animation. Rendered by the Oregon production company LAIKA, it's filled with clever detail, both old-school and state-of-the-art. Watch Norman strolling the sidewalks of his modest neighborhood, with the ghosts and zombies of his favorite movies materializing at every corner. It's a sequence that took, according to the press kit, more than two years to create, and it's over almost before we can take it all in; a fleeting moment of the imagination, meticulously brought to life.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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