FILM REVIEW: Paranorman 3D )PG)

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You wait decades for an intelligent, visual stunning and hilarious stop-motion 3D animation about a little boy battling zombie hordes and, lo and behold, two come along at the same time.

Next month, Tim Burton unveils his black and white childhood fable Frankenweenie, which has been selected as the opening night gala of the London film festival.

This week, directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell spoil us with this beautifully crafted tale of a young misfit, who is blessed with the ability to see ghosts in his sleepy New England town of Blithe Hollow, where witches were once burned for their supposed crimes.

ParaNorman opens with a tongue-in-cheek homage to George A Romero and his bloodthirsty peers, who have littered the big screen with the marauding undead.

“What’s happening?” Grandma (voiced by Elaine Stritch) asks Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he stares at a zombie tucking into the brains of a hapless female victim on the TV screen.

“He’s eating her head,” replies the boy nonchalantly.

“He’s going to ruin his dinner,” notes the old dear, one of the earthbound spirits that appear to Norman but remain invisible to the lad’s parents Perry (Jeff Garlin) and Sandra (Leslie Mann), and his bitchy sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick).

A surprise visit from deranged uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman) casts a dark cloud over Blithe Hollow.

“The witch’s curse is real and you’re the only one who can stop it!” Prenderghast instructs Norman, who discovers that his supernatural abilities have been passed down from his dotty relative.

Sure enough, the seven people who sent witch Aggie (Jodelle Ferland) to her doom back in 1712 rise from the grave, led by the menacing Judge (Bernard Hill).

Sheriff Hooper (Tempestt Bledsoe) struggles to maintain calm as locals grab their shotguns and pitchforks to repel the zombie attack.

Meanwhile, Norman joins forces with classmate Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), his buff older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck), school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Courtney to break the witch’s curse once and for all.

ParaNorman is aimed at family audiences but parents and teenagers will undoubtedly laugh loudest during Butler and Fell’s colourful romp, which pokes fun at the conventions of the horror genre, including one very funny interlude with a vending machine that mocks the zombies’ painfully slow shuffle.

Smit-McPhee tugs heartstrings as the loner who would give anything to lose his ability to communicate with the dead, telling his father, “I didn’t ask to be born this way,”

Visuals burst with vibrant colour and the attention to detail is remarkable, even in frenetic action scenes when dozens of characters litter the screen in eye-popping 3D.

Young children might be slightly unnerved by severed limbs that scuttle around of their own accord but violence is cartoonish and scares are gentle.

Treats outnumber tricks in this ghoulishly grand adventure.

By Damon Smith

:: NO SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 7/10

Released: September 14 (UK & Ireland), 92 mins