It is very difficult to write a movie or a book that can manage to appeal to both children and adults. Pixar can do it, and Studio Ghibli can do it. But can studio LAIKA, creators of Coraline and now Paranorman, do it?
Well... Coraline is one of my favorite animated films; my enjoyment has grown with each successive viewing. But Paranorman is no Coraline. In fact, not only does Paranorman not appeal to adults, but many parents question its appropriateness for children... a complaint which I care nothing about!
Coraline is almost certainly too dark and too scary for children - after all, the 'Other Mother' wants to sew buttons into Coraline's eyes and I imagine that'd freak out some youngins. That's no problem for me though, since I'm not a youngin and I don't have youngins. Instead, I appreciate the beautiful animation, the eccentric charm which every character exudes, and the script which explores childhood themes of angst and isolation and identity without ever devolving into cliche.
Paranorman, however, is a non-stop slideshow of cliche and stereotype. There's the charming fat kid (a staple of such films dating back, as far as I can tell, to Goonies and continuing on into more recent releases like Super 8 and now Paranorman). There's the means-well-but-insensitive father who wishes his son was less weird. There's the ineffectual mother. There's the teenage girl who only cares about boys. There's the muscular teenage boy who loves his car (cept for the throwaway, 'I'm gay' line... yeah what?). There's the bully picking on Norman. There's the ALL ADULTS JUST DON'T GET IT AND NEED THE YOUNG CHILD TO SHOW THEM WISDOM! Not a one of them is charming except for the fat kid Neil but his charm is so obviously manufactured that it only serves to further highlight just how stereotypical the whole shebang is.
The plot's not much better. Teenage boy is a little bit weird and therefore isolated. But his isolation allows him to become a hero (see image)! He doesn't give up even when everyone else does and then reveals the truth to those poor benighted mainstream fools. And within the last 20 minutes, every single character pulls a 180 and now appreciates our hero! Gee, never seen that plot before.
Paranorman isn't a bad movie. There's some gorgeous animation; I thought some of the skies were particularly well-done and the animation near the end was spectacular. But I found the fundamental story-skeleton - the characters, the plot, the ebb and flow of the action - to unequivocally fail to transcend the stereotypes that it co-opted.
Final Say: Paranorman's stop-motion animation is great and there's a handful of decent lines, but the film doesn't have much else going for it. Abundant use of stereotypes and trite plot lines keep the film from ever soaring.
How to Watch It: I wouldn't watch Paranorman unless I'd watched Coraline and Nightmare Before Christmas first. But if you watch them first, then you'll almost certainly realize just how inferior Paranorman is. Which doesn't exactly leave a lot of space for this film in one's animated film collection. So...
Trivia: Stop motion animation dates back pretty far, all the way to 1897. It became rather more famous with Willis O' Brien's work in King Kong. O' Brien's successor Ray Harryhausen is probably the most famous stop-motion animator of all time, with his mythology epics like Jason and the Argonauts, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and Clash of the Titans (all of which I own, yay!).