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Stopped Motion 

ParaNorman dishes only a few laughs through an old-school medium

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Fans of stop-motion animation are going to rejoice at this newest entry in the quaint old genre. You know, where the characters are made of clay or silicon, and you move them slightly, shoot a frame, move them slightly, shoot another frame, a la Gumby, Wallace and Gromit, and Ray Harryhausen’s army of skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts. It’s a painstakingly difficult but visually rewarding process, with real objects lit up by real lights, resulting in an effect that can’t quite be achieved with computer-generated animation.

Yeah, those fans will like the look of this stop-motion zombie comedy. But I don’t think the story is going to pass muster. ParaNorman is no Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. Oh, it’s funny, often going for full-out slapstick, sometimes getting strangely ironic, as when a dog is run over by an animal rescue van. But there’s just too much storytelling packed into the script, and too much of it — comic scenes included — falls flat.

The main story is about Norman (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee), a lonely 11-year-old who has been labeled “weird” at school because he can see and communicate with ghosts. Actually, he has some pretty interesting conversations with his still feisty but dead grandmother (Elaine Stritch).

He also gets to talking with his very much alive Uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman), who also sees ghosts, and warns Norman, just before comically dropping dead, that an old curse on their town, dating back to Salem witchcraft trial days, is real, and that the dead are coming back and “Only you can stop them!”

Just that story could’ve worked, but writer and co-director Chris Butler has added a goofy best friend, some misunderstanding parents, an annoying older sister, a school bully, a 300-year-old flashback and an unnecessary 3D presentation.

Though the purposefully asymmetrical characters (noses are crooked, eyes are different sizes) are fun to look at, and the offbeat sets feature peeling paint and cracked sidewalks, the plot ends up being uncomfortably cluttered. Still, anyone who can get by that part will likely enjoy the cartoonishly scary sequences, the scenes of wild action and the amazingly intricate costuming on the characters, most of which are about nine inches tall.

The story does get a little tedious, but I will admit to laughing out loud when, in the midst of a zombie attack on the town, a voice on a radio urges the populace to “panic and run.”

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