NEW THIS WEEK
-- A WONDERFULLY WROUGHT WORK OF STOP-MOTION ANIMATION ABOUT A LONELY BOY WHO SEES DEAD PEOPLE:
"PARANORMAN" PG -- A little too spooky for kids under 10 unless parents determine they can handle it, "ParaNorman" tells a corker of a story about an oddball 11-year-old named Norman Babcock (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee) who sees and talks to ghosts. The film bogs down briefly near the end, when it starts teaching too earnestly about accepting children who are different and avoiding mob thinking. But that's a mere detour on a great ride. Made with stop-motion animation using "real" (as opposed to computer-generated) characters and sets made of tangible materials, the film has a surreal picture-book look. Kids under 10 might quail at the zombies and ghosts, exposed brains and decomposing corpses, though they're portrayed with whimsical humor, not realism. Norman sees ghosts and chats with them all the time, starting with his deceased grandmother (Elaine Stritch), though the rest of the family can't see her. Norman's bellicose dad (Jeff Garlin) thinks his son's a weirdo and worries what will become of him. His teen sister (Anna Kendrick) thinks he's a loser. At school, the bone-headed bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) gives Norman a hard time. Only his classmate Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), who gets harassed for being overweight, offers friendship to Norman. Their hometown of Blithe Hollow has a history of colonial-era witch trials. Norman learns from his estranged and dying Uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman) that the town is under a curse from a "witch" who was executed in the old days, and he, Norman, must break the curse and stop an onslaught of zombies. It's complicated, but, with help, Norman does that and more, and becomes a hero.
THE BOTTOM LINE: While we see skeletal zombies and there's much talk about them eating brains, they don't really do it. There are decomposing bodies, though, with worms and bugs and such around them, but it's all quite artsy as opposed to naturalistic, so less scary for 10 and older -- similar to "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (PG, 1993) or "Corpse Bride" (PG, 2005). At the climax, Norman runs through the woods trying to find the witch's grave and risks impalement on branches that pop out at him. The witch conjures up scary, swirling clouds and lightning.
-- A MAGIC REALIST FABLE FOR SENSITIVE KIDS 10 AND OLDER:
"THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN" PG -- Sentimental and a bit preachy though it may be, "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" will entertain and move sensitive kids 10 and older with its magic-tinged tale of love between parents and child. The fact that it is acted with beautiful subtlety doesn't hurt. Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) tell their story to skeptical social workers and it unfolds as a long flashback: After years of trying to have a baby, they had resigned themselves to a loving but childless marriage. To put their sorrow behind them, they wrote down all the wonderful traits a child of theirs might have had, and buried the scraps of paper in a box in their yard. Later that evening, a storm blew around their ramshackle house in the economically challenged town of Stanleyville ("pencil capital of the world"). Suddenly, a smiling, muddy little boy, perhaps between 8 and 10, appeared in their home. He told them he was "Timothy" and called them Mom and Dad. The couple were stunned, but thrilled. When they saw green leaves growing out of Timothy's legs and sensed what magic had occurred, they just decided to have him wear knee-highs and ignore it. At school, Timothy was considered an oddball and came in for bullying until he was befriended by Joni (Odeya Rush), an older girl who saw he was special. Even the soccer coach (rap star Common) felt protective of Timothy and reluctant to put him on the field. The townsfolk reacted narrow-mindedly at first to Timothy's oddness. By the end, the film becomes a testament to adoption.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Characters drink wine. There are jokes about flatulence. The school bullies are mean but not vicious. The storms are a little intense.
-- MORE GUYS DOING RIDICULOUSLY DANGEROUS STUNTS A LA "JACKASS," BUT IN PG-13 MODE:
"NITRO CIRCUS: THE MOVIE" PG-13 -- The strongest profanity is bleeped out and the guys don't flash their privates for the camera, "Jackass"-style, so this reality-TV-style action comedy is OK for most teens. A spin-off of the "Nitro Circus" TV series, the 3-D film adds little to the "Jackass" films (all rated R) and TV shows. ("Jackass" star Johnny Knoxville appears in the film to comment on the action; so does actor Channing Tatum). Except that this film, even in 3-D and with guys who are better athletes than the "Jackass" crew, manages to be really dull. Yes, they dive off skyscrapers (with parachutes); they ride buses, cars, motorcycles and tricycles at high speeds off ramps, hurtling through the air and crashing into dirt, or cardboard boxes or pools or lakes or the ocean. It's like one long fraternity initiation -- a blur of stupid human tricks. And it turns out that all the location stunts recorded for the film were just a warm-up for a "Nitro Circus" Las Vegas appearance, of which we only see a little snippet at the end.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Apart from the dangerous stunts the guys engage in, the banter includes mildish profanity and crude language, with all the stronger words bleeped out, though it's clear what they are.
(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group.