Norman is an 11 year-old boy with a very unusual gift - he has the ability to see and speak to the no longer living! His own family thinks he's out of his gourd for talking to his dead grandmother and he's regarded as a freak by his mean and bullying school mates. Until one day, when dark, ominous visions suddenly assaults his extrasensory mind; making him aware of a terrible curse that rests upon his home town. A vindictive witch, who has a score to settle with the town inhabitants, sets to raise the dead from their graves, which becomes the point of departure for a hair-raising adventure, rife with zombies, phantoms and many a skin-crawling moments.
Chris Butler, who here make his directing and screenwriting debut with the somewhat more experienced Sam Fell (Flushed Away, The Tale of Desperaux), delivers a visually goluptious, if uneven yarn, that takes the rather ancient stop-motion technique (the first creation of its kind came already in 1897) and hones it to its ideal condition. Not least as it has applied a set of cutting-edge 3D printers to generate faces for its characters.
For all the confectionary to the eyes, however, the film is marred by its unbalanced tempo and somewhat bromidic structure. I welcome all the fun references to old horror favourites like Friday the 13th and Halloween, but the narrative hobbles too much, at the same time as many of the characters seem a little too stereotypical and normative to fully engage. Norman's bimbo of a sister is one such case - the dim-witted muscle package Mitch, another.
The voice-acting, however, is consistently on top, with wholehearted efforts by names like Christopher "McLovin" Mintz-Plasse, John Goodman and Bernard Hill. The ensemble is also gilt-edged by fresh talents in the genre in the form of Casey Affleck and Anna Kendrick. Humor-wise it's very hit-and-miss; it never really amounts to more than a couple of chuckles and it feels like the script would have done better with hiring in a writer of more comical aptitude. Not that Butler's dialogues don't fill their function, but they lack a certain geist, to lift it beyond banality.
As an amusing fun-for-the-moment escapade, it works more than well though. The macabre theme, which also has a great deal to say about people's ignorance and odium to remove their blinders, is neatly interweaved with the colorful animations, which are of prime and first-rate caliber. The absence of blood may perhaps be lame to those who hankered for an animated Braindead, but as a G-rated family feature it's adequately scary and fits well with the given format. Then again - you may not want to retell it as a bedtime story to kids below the age of 6. Just a tip for all the parents out there who value their beauty sleep.