Laika’s second feature, its first without Henry Selick, and its first using 3D color printers to manufacture characters, ParaNorman is the Burton-esque story of a boy cursed with the ability to talk to ghosts. (Told by his mom that he needs to let go of his memories of Grandma because she’s “in a better place,” Norman replies, “No, she’s not,” since he knows she’s still sitting on the living room sofa, and is still complaining.)
This skill makes Norman something of a haunted outcast, a la Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. But it also makes him the only one who realizes that the town is about to be invaded by zombies, and that only he can save the day. Given the nature of the story, the visuals are unusually creepy and ghoulish, especially for a kids’ movie.
There’s also an openly gay character (a first for a children’s animated movie), though his orientation isn’t revealed until the final moments (reinforcing the movie’s message about withholding judgment of other people). All of this makes ParaNorman unusually sophisticated, though kids who are into monsters and zombies may eat it up without noticing some of the material flying over their heads.