Directors: Chris Butler and Sam Fell
Writer: Chris Butler
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill, Jodelle Ferland, John Goodman
A groundbreaking children's film about the dangers of persecuting people simply for being different, ParaNorman also manages to be a fun and entertaining adventure for the whole family, whether they be young, old, or recently dead.
Norman (Kodi-Smit-McPhee) is blessed with the unusual ability to see dead people. Except everyone around him sees this ability not as a blessing but as a curse. Bullied at school, he becomes friends with Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) an overweight lug who appreciates, rather than fears Norman's ability to see dead people. When Norman is approached by his Uncle, Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman) who also shares his ability, he is told by his uncle that the birthday of the accursed town witch who was executed 200 years ago is approaching. It turns out that Norman must prevent the witch from raising an army of the dead. But when things go wrong, Norman and his friends find themselves being pursued by an army of zombies. In order to save their town they must find a way to end the witches curse permanently.
In 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt argued that "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." This could be summed up to be the main theme of ParaNorman which lacks a traditional villain. There are several plot twists that reveal, bit by bit, that the different groups of "villains" that appear to pose the greatest threat at the beginning, are not what they initially appear to be. In the end, the greatest danger presented in the film comes from those characters who give into fear and hatred. There is also a rather brief but interesting moment where a car radio has the news media trying to fan the flames of fear during the height of a crisis, so one character changes the channel to easy listening.
Norman's condition functions as an obvious metaphor for being gay. He is referred to as having been "born that way" and bullied at school for it. His father and other family members go out of their way to try to encourage Norman to stop seeing dead people and just try to be "normal".
In addition to this subtext, ParaNorman also contains a groundbreaking gay character, Neil's older brother Mitch is explicitly revealed to have a boyfriend. This is groundbreaking in two ways. One is due to the almost complete absence of queer identified youth in cinema in general. The second is due to the total absence of LGBTQ characters in mainstream films aimed at kids. As it is, Mitch is the first (that I am aware of) gay identified youth in a mainstream film aimed at kids.
On the technical side of things, the stop motion animation for ParaNorman is first rate. It was be filmed in 3D, but I saw the 2D version and did not feel that I was missing out on anything. The voice work is also well done and there are no recognizable celebrity voices to distract the audience from the story. The humor is fairly overt for the macabre subject matter, with some truly clever moments such as the use of the theme from Halloween that turns out to be Norman's cell phone ringer or the way the filmmakers reveal that Norman's grandmother is actually dead.
Overall, an enjoyable flick with some well done animation and interesting subtexts to go along with a nicely told story.
Anyone normal or para-normal should see this film.
*** out of ****
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