In the small town of Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts, Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an 11-year-old boy who speaks with the dead, including his late grandmother (Elaine Stritch) and various ghosts in town. Almost no one believes him and he is isolated emotionally from his family while being ridiculed by his peers. His friend, Neil Downe (Tucker Albrizzi), is an overweight boy who is bullied himself and finds Norman a kindred spirit. During rehearsal of a school play commemorating the town's witch execution of three centuries ago, Norman has a vision of the town's past and being pursued as a witch by the town's citizenry. Afterward, the boys are confronted by his estranged and seemingly deranged uncle Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman) who tells his nephew that he soon must take up his regular ritual to protect the town. Soon after this encounter, Prenderghast dies from a sudden stroke.
During the official performance of the school play Norman has another vision, creating a public spectacle of himself which leads to his father (Jeff Garlin) grounding him. His mother (Leslie Mann) tells him that his father's stern manner is because he is afraid for him. The next day, Norman sees Prenderghast's ghost who tells him that the ritual must be performed with a certain book before sundown that day. Norman is at first reluctant to go because he is scared but his grandmother tells him it is all right to be scared as long as he does not let it change who he is. Norman sets off to retrieve the book from Prenderghast's house (having to take it from his corpse). He then goes to the graves of the five men and two women who were cursed by the witch they condemned, but finds the book is merely a series of fairy tales. Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a school bully, interferes with the reading until after sundown. A ghostly storm resembling the witch appears in the air while the cursed dead zombies arise, chases and pursue the boys along with Norman's big sister, Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and Neil's older brother, Mitch (Casey Affleck) in the van into town, but Norman contacts classmate Salma (who tells them to access the Town Hall's archives for the location of the witch's unmarked grave) for help. As the kids make their way to the Town Hall, the zombies are attacked by the citizenry. During the riot, they break into the archives but cannot find the information they need. As the mob moves to attack Town Hall, the witch storm appears and Norman climbs the Hall's tower to read the book, but the witch strikes it with lightning and causes him to fall back down into the archives.
Unconscious, Norman has a dream where he learns that the witch was Agatha Prenderghast (Jodelle Ferland), a little girl of his age who was also a medium. Norman also learns that Agatha was wrongfully convicted by the town council after they mistook her powers as witchcraft. After awakening, Norman encounters the zombies and realizes that they were the same town council who convicted Agatha. The zombies then admit that they only wanted to speak with him to ensure he would take up the ritual to minimize the harm of the mistake they made towards Agatha. Norman attempts to help the zombies slip away to have them guide him to Agatha's grave, but are cornered by the mob. Courtney confronts the crowd and convinces them to back off. Judge Hopkins (Bernard Hill) guides Norman's family to the grave in a forest. Before the grave is reached, Agatha's magic separates Norman from the others. Norman finds the grave and interacts with Agatha in the spirit dimension, determined to stop the cataclysmic tantrum she had been having over the years. She asks him to leave her be, but Norman holds his ground, telling her he understands how she feels as an outcast. Norman endures her assault and eventually convinces her that her vengeance is accomplishing nothing and persuades her to stop. Norman tells her that there must have been someone who was kind to her. Agatha recalls happy memories with her mother. She is able to find a measure of peace and move on to the afterlife. The storm dissipates, and she and the zombies all fade away. The town cleans up and regards Norman as a hero. In the end, Norman watches a horror film with the ghost of his grandmother and his family.
- Kodi Smit-McPhee as Norman Babcock, an 11-year-old outcast kid who speaks to the dead
- Jodelle Ferland as Agatha "Aggie" Prenderghast, a Puritan girl who lived in the 1700s.
- Tucker Albrizzi as Neil Downe, Norman's eccentric and chubby friend
- Anna Kendrick as Courtney Babcock, Norman's 17 year old sister and cheerleader
- Casey Affleck as Mitch Downe, Neil's 18 year old brother and a jock; the target of Courtney's affections.
- Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Alvin, a 13 year old school bully
- Leslie Mann as Sandra Babcock, Norman's mother
- Jeff Garlin as Perry Babcock, Norman's father
- Elaine Stritch as Grandma Babcock, Norman's ghost grandmother
- Bernard Hill as Judge Hopkins, the leader of the zombies
- John Goodman as Mr. Prenderghast, Norman's uncle and the town's local lunatic
- Tempestt Bledsoe as Sheriff Hooper, a police officer
- Hannah Noyes as Salma, a smart girl from Norman's class
- Ariel Winter as Blithe Hollow kid
- Bridget Hoffman as Crystal and Parachutist Ghost
- Scott Menville as Deputy Wayne
- David Cowgill as Greaser Ghost
- Wendy Hoffman as Gucci Lady
- Alex Borstein as Mrs. Henscher, Norman's teacher
- Jeremy Shada as Pug
- Emily Hahn as Sweet Girl
- Kirk Baily, Cam Clarke, Lara Cody, Eddie Frierson, Rif Hutton, Edie Mirman and David Zyler as Blithe Hollow townspeople
Production of the stop-motion animation feature took place at Laika's studio in Hillsboro, Oregon. The film was in production for three years with the animating stage of production lasting about two years, beginning in late 2009. Rather than using traditional 3D format cameras, the studio used sixty Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR cameras to film the movie. Ad agency Wieden+Kennedy created the advertising campaign for the film. ParaNorman is the first ever stop motion film to utilize full-color 3D printers for replacement animation, after Coraline pioneered and popularized the use of black and white 3D printers, which sped up puppet production considerably and allowed the team to make the large number of puppet faces required for the film.
"Quite often it’s the stop-motion movies that are more out there", co-director Fell told The New York Times. "They're a little quirkier, they're a little harder to pin down."
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