Friday, January 25, 2013

ParaNorman Movie Review

Stop-motion animation seems to be a vanishing art, but in 2012, we had two Halloween-themed stop-motion movies that were released around the same time. I think Tim Burton is keeping the medium alive. Once in a while someone else will make one as well. ParaNorman (2012) was not done by Tim Burton. Popular as zombies are, I’m almost surprised there wasn’t a zombie movie targeted towards kids before before this one.
In the little town of Blithe Hollow, Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a boy who can see ghosts and speak to the dead. No one besides his eccentric new friend, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), believes his ability is real. One day the town lunatic, Norman’s estranged eccentric uncle (John Goodman), tells him of an important annual ritual he must take up to protect the town from a curse cast by a witch it condemned centuries ago. Eventually, Norman decides to cooperate, but things don’t go according to plan. Now, a supernatural storm caused by the witch’s curse threatens Blithe Hollow as the accursed dead rise. Together with unexpected new companions, Norman struggles to save his town, only to discover the horrific truth of the curse. With that insight, Norman must resolve the crisis for good.
ParaNorman hit theaters in August, a bit early for a Halloween movie. It has a lot of classic “Halloween” elements in it; ghosts, witches, and zombies and an autumnal setting. I was expecting a silly, light hearted romp with silly monsters and trick or treating that would probably conclude with some sort of wacky villain trying to ruin everyone’s fun. Boy, was I wrong! ParaNorman had a lot of morbidity; ghosts who are unhappy and lingering around, a character actually dies in the movie and becomes a ghost, decaying zombies arise and begin shambling about, and stories of a witch being hanged back in the early Colonial days of America. It seemed kind of dark for a family film. Even though ParaNorman is PG, it had some genuinely scary imagery that would probably scare the pants off some young viewers.
Norman's hair always sticks straight up
The animation in ParaNorman was great. Actual stop-motion animation had lots of detail; the sets and characters really looked good. A lot of props and characters have exaggerated features. It adds an interesting style to the animation that looks unique to the movie; it doesn’t look like a Tim Burton feature with spindly characters who have enormous eyes. There are subtle little things, like Norman’s hair, that add some charm to the movie. Norman tries to style his hair so that it looks nice, and it gets tussled up during his adventure, but no matter what happens to it, it springs straight up again. Hair is very hard to animate in stop-motion; I’ve got to give these animators credit. There is some CGI animation used in the movie, too. I think that detracts from the “magic” of stop-motion animation, but it was well incorporated and looked good for the most part.
What surprised me most about ParaNorman was the theme of the movie. Like I said, I was expecting a light-hearted Halloween romp, but the theme was actually pretty deep and meaningful. It’s about how people will overreact with fear of the unfamiliar, and how that often leads to bullying or worse. It’s also about open, clear communication to ensure that we understand one another and don’t jump to erroneous conclusions which could cause us to harm one another. ParaNorman incorporated this theme remarkably well; we aren’t beat over the head with it, but it’s still beautifully and logically woven into the story. I absolutely loved this theme, and they used it in the context of a zombie movie! It’s amazing!
My only real complaint about ParaNorman was the fact that it is pretty slow paced. I understand that it needed to establish some back story and develop the characters before they can actually delve into the meat of the story. But by the time the story got moving I was teetering on the brink of boredom. I hadn’t lost interest enough to turn it off, and the movie as a whole is pretty good, it just has a slow start. If you can make it through the first fourth, you’re in for a good, solid movie.
ParaNorman is a fun movie that features some good animation, a decent story, a fantastic theme, and features zombies. What’s not to love? There is some scary imagery that might frighten some younger viewers, so I wouldn’t recommend showing this to kids under the age of 8 or so. Beyond that, I highly recommend ParaNorman to anyone, especially to help understand bullying, the reasons it happens, and how to stop it. It’s got a slow start, but it’s worth sticking with it. ParaNorman has been nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars this year, it was that good. I would buy ParaNorman on Blu-Ray, but I think it is worth renting at the very least.

I can think of a couple of PG family films that were probably a bit too scary for their target audience. What was a movie or movie character in a kid’s movie that scared you to pieces when you were little? Comment below and tell me why!


  1. Monster House previews made it look like a children's movie. Definately scare the bejeebers out of any child. Scared me!

    1. That's a great example! Monster House is not a bad movie, but would probably scare the pants off of small kids. Thanks for your comment!