ParaNorman, a stop-motion film about a kid named Norman who just happens to have paranormal powers (punny!), starts out well. Its protagonist is likeable, if lonely, and its setting is filled with just enough character and history that it intrigues and captures the viewer. It has a great lesson and some important themes.
And then it took those things and wrung out every ounce of subtext so it could hit the audience over the head with them, over-explaining every step along the way. ParaNorman has a lot of promise at the begining and all but squanders it by the end.
Its characters, Norman excepted, are all broadly drawn, and while this isn't a make-or-break quality in a children's film, it can be a problem for the adult members of the audience. When characters are only given one or two traits, they're not very interesting to watch. Any shading given to the non-protagonist characters is minimal at best, and while broad stereotypes can help to build humor, they don't do much to add depth or meaning to the story.
It's too bad, really. I wanted to like ParaNorman, and I certainly wouldn't say I came out of the theater hating it. Mostly I just felt disappointed. The film put some clever twists on old horror film tropes and did a nice job with the character of Norman himself. Its opening (especially the sequence with Norman walking to school) was very effective, not to mention attractive. Some shots look like the real world while others use the stop-motion to beautiful effect. This is especially true in the climactic showdown at the end of the film.
ParaNorman is a mediocre film that could have been much better, and there is little more frustrating for me to watch than ambition and potential thwarted by mediocrity.