Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell
Written by Chris Butler
There’s this apparent belief that animated movies are for kids. I don’t know how it got started. You look at early Disney and for everything kid-friendly, there’s a Chernabog right around the corner. And if there were any doubts left that the animated movies being released by Focus Features (Coraline and 9) are being aimed more towards an older audience, ParaNorman erases them.
ParaNorman is the story of Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a would-be normal middle school kid if it weren’t for the fact that his ability to see and talk to ghosts has completely alienated him. His parents are disappointed in him and the kids at school pick on him. And things get worse when he finds out that it’s up to him to stop a 300-year old witch’s curse that causes zombies to rise.
While the plot initially seems simple, things change past its seeming standard story along the way, and part of this is thanks to its very adult jokes and themes. For the former, well, let’s just say that there’s several moments that made me surprised this got away with a PG. This doesn’t just slide stuff past that only the parents are going to get. This takes that content and puts it front and center. This does mix in with some of the standard sillier jokes that could be expected out of a movie aimed towards kids, which just feels a bit odd. The jokes still tend to work, but they also feel out of place.
The themes, though, are what makes this movie so good and what make me want to rewatch it. Without spoiling too much, there’s a significant focus on pacifism and non-violent conflict resolution. It can be hard to take something like this all the way through, and yet the movie makes certain that Norman isn’t just heroic: he stays as he is. This is mirrored with the knee-jerk violent reactions of everybody else. There’s also a huge focus on ultimately forgiving what people have done, and how those same people’s regrets can weigh on them. I will admit it’s a bit unrealistically optimistic at times. Then again, maybe some optimism is nice. ParaNorman’s world can be a dark place, and yet it shows the light at the end of everything. Along with the central themes, there are plenty of comparisons to make here. The reaction to Norman’s abilities can feel like a parallel to autism reactions, and the bullying of people for being different can be taken as a statement on gay bullying. This is a movie you can do a good deep reading into.
Maybe it’s not quite as good as Laika Studios’ own Coraline. This doesn’t stop it from being a deep, dark animated movie that breaks the mold from what everybody else does.