Directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler. Voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Jodelle Ferland, Elaine Stritch Christopher Mintz- Plasse PG cert, general release, 92 min

For kids with a taste for the macabre, ParaNorman is a delightfully spooky comedy, writes TARA BRADY

MUCH TO THE chagrin of his family and peers, New Englander misfit Norman Babcock (voiced by The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee) can see dead people.

Sadly, communing with the dearly departed does not equate to popularity. At home, dad (Jeff Garlin) bellows when Norman passes on messages from his late grandmother to turn the heating up and cheerleader sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) derides her sibling as a freak. At school, Norman is a favourite target for semi-pro bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).

Now, as Norman’s already gothic hometown approaches the 300th anniversary of the hanging of a notorious Salem-era witch, only his sixth sense can save the populace from a wave of marauding, avenging zombies.

The latest issue from Laika, the studio behind Coraline, is skillfully double- and oft-times triple-coded. Weedier, paler children may well balk at a 3D stop-motion animation that thrives on sly allusions to Cannibal Holocaust, Salem’s Lot and The Evil Dead. But anyone who’s robust enough to enjoy Roald Dahl will surely appreciate ParaNorman’s playfully PG undead action.

Look again and the film is a lively high-school comedy, replete with schoolyard politics, shades of Richard Linklater and a neat anti-romantic punchline. Squint just right and it’s a decent-minded fable out to reminding us that forgiveness – or at least staying cool – can set you free.

A film is only as good as the company it keeps. ParaNorman, pleasingly, seems to emanate from someplace between The Goonies, Poltergeist and Scooby-Doo. The voice cast are exceptional and add deft comic touches to the Laika alchemy. The animation is goofier than the smooth surfaces of Coraline but appositely so; it just wouldn’t be a monster mash without jerking and gurning. The 3D is fluid if a little unadventurous. The denouement is a turn-up for the books.

You wait ages for a gothic, all-ages adventure then three come along at once. Frankenweenie and Hotel Transylvania hit Irish cinemas soon; in the meantime, ParaNorman has set the bar very high indeed.

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