ParaNorman delivers a wonderful message and adores the genre it was influenced by all while escaping the tropes of nostalgia.
Norman Babcock watches a zombie movie with his Grandma that’s straight out of the grimy 80’s era of shock shlock. He lays on the floor glued to the television as she sits behind him on the couch. “What’s happening now?” she asks as any Grandma would. “Well, the zombie is eating her head, Grandma.” Matter-of-factly she says, “That’s not very nice. What’s he doing that for?” Norman laughs at her and says, “Because he’s a zombie. That’s what they do.”
“He’s gonna ruin his dinner. I’m sure if they just bothered to sit down and talk it through, it would be a different story.” says his Grandma.
That one line of dialogue is key to what ParaNorman is about. If we all just sat down and talked, things could be much different. We wouldn’t be eating each others heads, but enough about our current societal situation. I loved this film when I saw it in 2012 and I absolutely adore it now.
ParaNorman is as much of a love letter to zombies, witches, horror, and Halloween as it is an allegory for acceptance* and progressive thinking.
You see, Norman is different. He sees dead people. And Grandma? Yeah, she’s dead too. She requests that Norman ask his Dad to turn up the heat because it’s cold to her. Norman does ask, but his family and most of the town thinks he’s a weirdo. So he primarily sticks to himself and the ghosts that hang around him.
Norman lives in Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts, a small town about to celebrate it’s 300th anniversary. That celebration also coincides with the execution of a witch from three centuries ago. In a vision Norman is pursued by the towns people of the past on a witch hunt. Afterwards, Norman is confronted by a seemingly deranged homeless man. This is his estranged Uncle Prenderghast who tells his nephew that soon must take over his regular ritual to protect the town.
What follows is an adventure where different types of social outcasts come together in search of the real answers of the towns history. ParaNorman is another sensationally detailed work from stop-motion animation studio, Laika (Kubo and the Two Strings, Coraline). For those of you who love Halloween, and if you’re reading this then you do, ParaNorman should be an annual viewing for sure. There’s nice hidden treats like the towns many stores. Some names are Witchy Wieners, The Bride and Broom Bridal Shop, The Hang Out (a bar with a hanging witch neon sign), Bewitched in Blithe, barbershop Trick or Trim, and the dry-cleaner Hung and Dried. My favorite is Gunnar’s Gas Shop, a nod to the actor Gunnar Hansen who played the original Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Without spoiling the film, the last act reveals many twists to what happened three centuries ago. “I’m sure if they just bothered to sit down and talk it through, it would be a different story.” That line of Grandma’s rings true in the films climax as Norman talks it through with someone else who’s misunderstood like he is. ParaNorman is not only a Halloween must-see, but it’s a must-see period. It’s my personal favorite from Laika and a movie that is always funny, detailed, creepy, and delivers a wonderful message. If you have a kid you want to introduce scary movies to, but won’t traumatize them, ParaNorman is the way. It’s in the vein of The Goonies and The Monster Squad in terms of having an edge and being fun for both children and adults.
Don’t forget to check out our other must-see Halloween picks on our 31 Days of Halloween list here.
*Norman’s sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) has a crush on Norman’s new friend Neil’s brother Mitch (Casey Affleck). At the end of the film Mitch casually says to Courtney that she’d like his boyfriend. The words are said, but it’s not made into a big deal because, well, it’s not. In a movie about acceptance this further reinforces the point with the examples of branding someone a witch because they’re weird centuries ago to ostracizing someone today because of their sexuality. Writer and co-director Chris Butler said in an interview with EURweb.com, “If we’re saying to anyone that watches this movie don’t judge other people, then we’ve got to have the strength of our convictions.”