Directors: Sam Fell and Chris Butler
Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Tucker Albrizzi, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Jodelle Ferland, Tempestt Bledsoe, Ariel Winter
Keep the little pre-school-aged kids away from ParaNorman, unless you want to promote night terrors. Though its anti-bullying, wholly positive story (about forgiveness and finding one's purpose in life) is meant to uplift, not petrify, this magnificent achievement in stop-motion animation is decidedly too grown-up for wee lads.
Blame that on filmmakers Chris Butler and Sam Fell's shared affinity for, and readiness to pay homage to, classic horror films. Nightmarish-looking zombies stumble about, corpses are used for sight gags, and the olden days' practice of executing women thought to be witches is the basis for the script's villainous sub-plot. Yeah, ParaNorman is a bit darker than, say, Ice Age.
More importantly, though, it's also stronger in the originality department, striking a delicate balance between adult horror and child-friendly wonder. Also worthy of praise is the fact that its protagonist, the kind-hearted, spirit-seeing Norman (voiced with heartfelt conviction by Let Me In's Kodi Smit-McPhee), is a well-realized, multifaceted triumph of a kiddie character offering something more than aww-shucks naïveté. If not for the little girl at the center of this countdown's top-ranked film, Smit-McPhee's Norman would rank as the summer's most inspiring hero.