If you’ve only just recovered from the histrionic stodge of Les Miz, and you are not exactly tingling with glee at the looming return to our screens of Quentin Tarantino and his hammerhead ego, you might do your brain a favour by checking out this charming, pertinent 3D animation.
Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee of Romulus fame), is like that kid in The Sixth Sense – he can see dead people. Picked on at junior high for being a freak and befriended by the similarly bullied fat boy (the staple buddy setup in contemporary cartoons, it is surely nearing its use-by date), Norman raises zombies from their graves and leads the good burghers of his township of Blithe Hollow to a regrettable episode in the past where a girl was condemned by the mob and executed for being a witch (the reference to Salem is obvious).
The second act of Chris Butler’s screenplay tends to meander – you feel like giving the movie a ‘get on with it’ prod – but beautiful artwork, including a fab car-chase spoof, and astutely drawn characters more than compensate. Norman’s toolshed Dad and frumpy Mom (‘honestly, not believing in the afterlife is like not believing in astrology’) are terrific, but it is Anna Kendrick as his pink-lippied, YouTube space-cadet sister Courtney (‘call me when you’ve got 18,000 hits’) and the lantern-jawed, muscle-bound jock Mitch (Casey Affleck) who very nearly steal the show.
The moral of the tale is clear and simple – be kind and open your heart to those who are not like you, to the Other. It is spelt out boldly and unequivocally, as is always the case in children’s entertainments. Is it not unreasonable to think that, in an overcrowded world with seemingly unbridgeable, widening chasms dividing us all, the approach might also benefit desensitised adults who flock to chic splatter fests that present themselves as sophisticated, cutting-edge cinema? The rapprochement between the wronged little girl and her accusers is a tonic for young and old.