Family films benefit from being a little scary. When you look back at such Golden Age classics as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Pinocchio,” and “Fantasia,” it is clear that incorporating some horror into a film for children can make for a more memorable and emotionally resonate  experience.

 

This is something modern day animators and filmmakers seem to have forgotten. Most feature length animations are bright, snappy, and constantly happy, without a single moment of darkness to be found. That is not always a bad thing, but shielding your audience from anything too obscene can often turn into disrespecting their intelligence.

 

Kids can take seeing scary images. They are smarter, stronger, and far more clever than most people give them credit for. Every so often there is a film that understands the high threshold a young audience has for being scared. A film like “ParaNorman.”

 

A stop-motion film from the animation studio Laika, “ParaNorman” follows Norman Babcock. Since birth, Norman has been able to see and speak with dead people. It isn’t strange or shocking for him in the slightest, it is just reality.

 

His family and school mates treat him like a freak. No one believes in his wild and horrifying gift, and Norman’s only real friend is his grandma, who is already dead.

 

Upon the passing of his uncle, Norman is forced to defend his home town of Blithe Hollow from the creatures that seek to destroy it.

 

Under different circumstances, “ParaNorman” could easily have made for a serious, adult horror film. But directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler, and the people at Laika, have turned this story into one of the most delightful animated films to be released in years.

 

Visually, “ParaNorman” is pure magic. Both in the coloring and animation, it is an undeniably beautiful film. Even when the story begins to drag, which it does ever-so-slightly in the middle, the film is always entertaining just because of how pretty it is.

 

The story itself is a little complex and quite dark. Kids will be able to catch the major beats, but probably won’t be able to absorb all of the nuance of this narrative. There are a few especially scary moments in particular that might require some complicated explanation from the parents in the room, but young people should be able to enjoy “ParaNorman” without too much difficulty.

 

For the adults, though, this is more than a satisfying movie experience. The jokes are funny, and most scenes contain a laugh or two. “ParaNorman” is never loud or obnoxious in its attempts at comedy. Rather, it takes on a quiet, assured confidence in its humor that is miles ahead of most other animated comedies.

 

The voice cast here, which includes Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick and Casey Affleck, is usually good and sometimes great. There isn’t a weak link to be found both in performance and writing, as these characters feel fully fleshed out.

 

This is the second stop-motion animated film from Laika, with their first being the equally scary and equally charming “Coraline.” Their third film, “The Box Trolls,” is set to be released this year; and, judging by the trailers, it should be a worthwhile follow up to the studio’s previous two modern day classics.

 

“ParaNorman” is a simply fantastic motion picture. Rarely do we see films like this made with such impeccable quality. From start to finish, “ParaNorman” is entertaining, scary, funny, and wonderful. Films that are enjoyable for, literally, all audiences come along once in a great while, so we should cherish them when they do.- 4/4

 

Have you seen “ParaNorman?” What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.