KILL ‘EM IN THE HEAD!!!
Directed by: Chris Butler/Sam Fell
Written by: Chris Butler
There’s something strange about ParaNorman. And I mean the movie, not the character, voiced by Let Me In’s Kodi Smit-McPhee. That might be what’s so strange. While the character can see dead people, he’s a pretty normal boy in how he deals with it. The dead people become his friends while everyone else ostracizes him and tells him that he’s a weirdo. Even his family thinks he’s a pretty creepy kid. His mom (Leslie Mann) tries to understand, but just can’t while his dad (Jeff Garlin) just explodes every time Norman brings up dead people. His sister (Anna Kendrick) is a teenager who is better just left alone.
Meanwhile, he becomes more and more of a recluse. He watches scary movies (mostly zombie flicks) with the ghost of his beloved grandmother (Elaine Stritch), just can’t seem to really talk to anyone else. Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) is the resident fat kid who also gets picked on. He tries to insinuate himself into Norman’s life because he sees a kind of kindred spirit…and he totally believes that this weird kid with the spiky hair can see ghosts.
When Norman’s Uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman) shows up out of nowhere, things get really strange for everyone. It turns out that there’s a 300 year old curse on the tiny (and rundown) town of Blithe Hollow that was cast by a supposed witch. She was accused of witchcraft by seven people (led by a Judge voiced by Bernard Hill) who were all cursed to return to life every year. It was Prenderghast’s yearly job to do something to stop it. Now it’s Norman’s. Why? Well, if you listen closely you can figure out why, but it’s never really mentioned in the movie.
Of course, the seven Puritans come back to life and Norman and his forced friends, including his sister, a bully who can’t spell his own name (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Neil and Neil’s jock brother (Casey Affleck), have to find a way to put them all back in their graves.
So, yes. This is a zombie movie for kids! And it completely lives up to the zombie movie premise of “They are us.”
What’s so strange about the movie, you ask? Well as I said, Norman is a pretty normal kid. At least, normal for a kid who can talk to dead people. He’s an outcast. He’s bullied. He’s depressed. He’s not happy. At all. There’s something different about him and everyone knows it and they don’t like it. It scares them. Instead of the happy-go-lucky hero like most animated kids’ movies would portray, he goes through life with a frown and sad eyes. We’re almost fooled during his first walk to school because of how he greets all of his dead friends, but as soon as he sees a living human, he shrinks away. All of this makes the movie start off pretty slow and COMPLETELY different from just about any other animated American film I’ve ever seen.
Of course, this is what the movie is all about. It’s not about a happy kid. It’s about a kid who is bullied by everyone he knows and how people who rule by fear are actually more afraid than the people they rule. There’s also a bit about not changing just to conform to other peoples’ ideas of who you should be.
I’m gonna be completely honest here: this movie needs to play to mass audiences. There’s a large portion of this country who won’t like it or won’t understand that it’s about them: but they should probably see it anyway.
Luckily, this message is all wrapped up in a pretty ripping yarn. I liked all of the characters (even the dumb ones were pretty smart) and loved how they got to where they ended up. It was real and a lot of fun, even if it’s not as full of “laughs” as a lot of these sorts of movies tend to be.
Be warned, though: ParaNorman gets pretty damned intense towards the end. This is, after all, a zombie/horror movie first and foremost. It’s still for kids, the last half hour is full of some fairly scary images and heady thoughts.
The animation was very good, too, especially in those last scenes. The characters reminded me a little bit of old wax Christmas angels for some reason (mainly around the mouth), but they were great. I especially liked the opening scene that was shot to look like an old grindhouse movie. Nice!
I really liked ParaNorman. At first I was worried because of the slowness (and the very occasional reliance on butt humor), but as soon as I got into the groove of it, it turned out to be a really fun kids’ horror flick with a surprisingly important message.