As a fan of Coraline, I was looking forward to seeingParaNorman since the first teaser trailer last year. A movie about zombies, curses, witches, and ghosts? Perfect for the kids! A little bit of trauma might do them some good! Don’t let the trailers fool you, though. ParaNorman is far from scary.
ParaNorman tells the story of Norman, a cartoon character who should be the poster child for children’s Prozac. He’s lonely, depressed, misunderstood, and has an unhealthy preoccupation with horror movies and the undead. He walks around like a miniature Stephen King without the sense of humor.
Then again, Norman has good reason to feel out of sorts. In addition to dealing with the insanity of middle school, he also sees dead people. All the time. To make matters worse, a centuries-old curse is about to bring the dead to life and only Norman can stop it.
This is where the movie quickly turns into Night ofthe Living Dead for the Nickelodeon-set. As zombies take over the town, the filmmakers try to up the suspense, but it’s a pretty docile invasion. The zombies look like they just escaped from a Plants vs. Zombies game and are more comical than vicious. By the time the film ends you even start to like them. Norman, with the help of his irritating sister, his best friend, and his best friend’s brother, struggle to stop the curse in ways that again, are amusing, not frightening. In fact, the scariest parts of the film are the ones that have to do with real life rather than fantasy. The constant bullying Norman has to endure at school and Norman’s father – a brash, angry, frustrated parent who constantly argues with his wife about their peculiar son – make up the real horror scenes in this film. The curse itself, which dates back to the Salem witch trials, the Puritans, and a misjudged “witch,” is a little too complex for the audience the film is intended for and will probably sail over most kids’ heads. But they will relate to the general theme of being misunderstood and will love cheering for Norman. With all his hang-ups, he is such a likable character that you can’t help feeling bad for him.
Even though the story isn’t particularly strong, the animation, as expected, is brilliant. Though the features of the adult characters are somewhat distracting and in some ways disturbing, the zombies are awesome with features that horrifically define them as individuals without completely grossing out the viewers. Most dramatic are the scenes involving the ancient witch whose effects are so fluid I forgot it was stop animation.
Kids will like the jokes, but there isn’t much for adults here beyond the artistic appreciation. Though there are some small shout-outs for the grown-ups – “Cu-Jo” bars in the candy machine, Scooby Doo references, and some overt allusions to classic horror films – this is definitely one for the kiddies.
I love animated films and with Fankenweenie, and Hotel Transylvania coming out soon, it seems that everyone is jumping the Princess-and-Prince-Living-Happily-Ever-After ship and embracing the horror and dark corners that kids have always been into. ParaNorman does a good job opening the door to that and will definitely have you smiling, but you don’t need to shell out the cash for this one, even in 3D. Rent the video and you’ll be just as pleased.