Official Synopsis: In “ParaNorman,” a small town comes under siege by zombies. Who can it call? Only misunderstood local boy Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is able to speak with the dead. In addition to the zombies, he’ll have to take on ghosts, witches and, worst, of all, grown-ups, to save his town from a centuries-old curse. But this young ghoul whisperer may find his paranormal activities pushed to their otherworldly limits.
From my experience and I imagine a majority of people who have had to go through it, the High School portion of our education days are the most intense, grueling, awkward and confusing time of our young lives.
It’s a time where we’re trying to find out what our purpose is in the larger world and how others fit into our little one. The tectonic plates of what we consider everyday living are constantly shifting and we feel like there’s nothing we can do about until we can move on to the glory years of college. Because college is nothing like high school, right?
These are some of the feelings experienced by the Norman, the protagonist in the recently released stop-motion animated horror comedy “ParaNorman” from Focus Features.
Written by Sam Fell (“Coraline” and “Flushed Away”) and Chris Butler and directed by Butler, “ParaNorman” is not your usual zombie movie, because…well, it’s a kids flick to be frank.
This isn’t a bloody movie by any means, but there can’t be a zombie movie, even a humorous one, with out some dismembered body parts and exposed brains. However, that’s where some of the film’s best comedic moments come into play.
While “ParaNorman,” has beautiful use of stop-motion animation, its story of a boy who can talk to the dead and how the knowledge of this effects how the community and even Norman’s own family treats him is what drives the core of this movie.
When Norman, voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee (“The Road”, “Let Me In”) finds out his eccentric uncle Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman), is the last line of defense against a witches’ centuries old curse on the town, he wants nothing to do with it. However, his uncle dies the day he must recite a story to keep the ghost of the witch and her seven victims at bay for another year, leaving the job to a reluctant Norman.
That word, “Reluctant,” is the definition of Norman. He doesn’t have many friends and doesn’t seem to want any, besides the ghost of his grandmother (who watches old B Zombie movies with Norman). While the movie portrays him as being an outcast at school, Norman doesn’t see to mind. He does mind how he’s treated for talking to the dead: as someone trying to get attention.
I admire the filmmakers for putting a spin on the typical junior high/high school story of being an outcast. Instead of it just being because the protagonist is nerdy or “weird,” it’s both by his own choice and because of “other worldly” influences.
Before seeing the movie, I had seen some compare this to one of my favorite films from last year, J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8,” which was a throwback to the Steven Spielberg films of the late 70’s and early 80’s. I can’t help but agree with this assessment.
Where “Super 8” paid homage to the sci-fi movies with dysfunctional families, “ParaNorman” writes its love letter to horror movies of the 80’s. Even with the change in genre, some of the same family dynamics are present and offer some of the most hear felt moments of the movie.
Just like any good family animated movie, “ParaNorman” has a lot of humor to offer, but where some of them lack, outside of Pixar movies, is a serious adult worthy story.
Acceptance and tolerance of those who are unlike you, both physically and interests wise, is what Fell and Butler try to convey, and they do a good job of it. They shine a light on what happens when fear is our first judgmental reaction of others and how we lash out at what we don’t understand. However, there is a forced moment at the end of the film that takes away from the message.
Our society today still has its fair share of prejudices to deal with and “ParaNorman” does exceptional work of tying those into America’s history with the Puritans and their literal “Witch Hunts” of yester year without going out of their way to point any fingers at today’s obvious issues…until the end.
It doesn’t make it any lesser of a film, but it was a bit too on the nose for my tastes.
One of the film’s strongest elements is its score by Jon Brion (“The Other Guys,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). His score is very understated, but not so much that it’s just background noise. He’s able to convey Norman’s chosen isolation in a sweet, yet melancholy fashion. At the same time, he’s able to pay homage to the music of 80’s horror movies, which give the action scenes the energy that it needs.
“ParaNorman” is a movie that will remind you of the “simpler” days of our youth and how we struggle to connect with others and ourselves. It also gives us the humor we all look for in an animated film, but it doesn’t try to pander to us.
- I spend a majority of animated movies trying to figure out what actors are voicing characters. It didn’t take me long on John Goodman or for Christopher Mintz-Plasse. What stumped me was Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air,” “50/50) and Casey Affleck. Affleck gives a pretty impressive performance and Kendrick is becoming one of my favorite actresses.
- I don’t usually give movies passing grades based off their special effects, but the stop-motion in “ParaNorman” is just phenomenal. It’s well worth the price of admission, especially if you’re a fan of the stop-motion episode of “Community.”
- “ParaNorman” might have the most gut-wrenching scene I’ve seen so far this year. Too bad I can’t tell you what it is.