Movie Review: Paranorman
It’s somewhat rare these days to have a horror/adventure film for children. It was long ago when Hollywood didn’t fear films that placed children in scary situations, but those films are uncommon now. It’s surprising that we’re getting several of these types of films in the next few months (Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie looks to follow this mold as well), but after seeing Paranorman I’m glad that it’s happening. Laika, the studio behind Paranorman and Coraline, understands how to tell a story to adults and children without watering the experience down for either group.
Paranorman is a stop motion animated film about Norman, a not-so-normal tween who gets bullied at school, likes to be alone, loves horror movies and… oh yeah! He can also speak to the dead. Speaking to the dead isn’t something that most people understand (or believe in) and so Norman is a social outcast at school and misunderstood at home. In the sleepy New England town of Blithe Hollow, the folks know the story of a witch who cursed several members of the community to return from the dead after sentencing her to death. What the average Blithe Hollow citizen doesn’t know is that the story is real and it’s up to Norman to prevent the witch from destroying everything. But in order to do that, Norman will have to brave zombies, ghosts, and angry townsfolk.
The greatest aspect of Paranorman lies in its ties to horror stories. Norman loves zombie movies; he watches them with his ghostly grandmother. He’s got horror movie posters, toys, and games. Norman is one of us. As someone who grew up watching horror movies, I could instantly recognize some of myself in the spikey-haired hero, and I suspect any children who like horror movies will see themselves as well. Norman feels, outside of the whole seeing ghosts thing, like your average misunderstood kid. It’s easy to empathize with him, and so when things start to get weird (and it doesn’t take long for this to begin) we’re totally on board with his journey.
The story manages to be macabre while still containing light-hearted fun of an adventure story. It’s a tremendously difficult line to walk, keeping things funny and also scary, but directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler manage to keep everything well in hand. It’s a trick that Tim Burton was able to walk easily in his early days but has trouble with now (here’s hoping that Frankenweenie is okay). And with a run-time of only 92 minutes, Paranorman doesn’t have much time to waste.
If there’s a damning aspect to the narrative, it’s that Norman’s ability to speak with ghosts pretty much disappears as a plot point after about thirty minutes. It’s mentioned briefly later and is used for a couple of good gags, but doesn’t seem that important in the long run.
The animation is beautiful, with the only issue being the occasional stutter in the frame rate (which could be attributed to the 3D viewing that I saw), and continues the Laika tradition of expressive and signature characters. Every character in Paranorman has its own special look and shape and they all animate wonderfully.
Going into the theater to see Paranorman I was hoping for something enjoyable. What I got was one of my favorite movies of the summer (not difficult considering how disappointed I’ve been with this summer’s films). A great, funnny, and heartwarming horror/comedy in the vein of the classic Monster Squad, the biggest problem with Paranorman is that it was released so far from my beloved Halloween season where it would probably have done better financially. If you like horror movies and aren’t frightened by the prospect of sitting through a children’s film, you’ll find Paranorman to be a charming and funny afternoon at the theater.