Children's / Reviews

ParaNorman (2012) review

Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), an 11 year old who can see and speak to ghosts, discovers that it is his destiny to stop the curse of a 300-years dead witch.

Utilizing stop-motion and computer generated animation, ParaNorman is a thrilling, funny, and smart children’s zombie/ghost film.  I thoroughly loved every second of this film, and if you are a horror film fan, you will too.  There is sheer joy at watching the story unfold on the screen as Norman and his rag tag group of “friends” confront the witch and her zombie menace.

We are introduced to Norman as he is speaking to his grandmother.  We soon discover that his grandmother is dead and that only he can see and hear her.  Of course, this brings him a lot of grief from his parents and sister and all the kids at school.  None of them believe him and think he is a freak, a fact which they make no efforts to hide.  Norman is a loner until he meets the fat kid, Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi), and they soon become friends; both of them find some sort of solace in the other after being incessantly bullied.  Norman soon discovers that it is his destiny to stop the witch’s curse.  To give away more of the plot would be taking the enjoyment out of discovering it for yourself.

Yes, there are zombies in this film.  Yes, there are ghosts in this film, and yes, there is a “witch”.  This film is a perfect Halloween film and I will never understand why Focus Features released it in August as opposed to October to take advantage of the Halloween trade.

I think what I found so wonderful about this film is that it doesn’t treat the subject matter with, for lack of a better term, kid gloves.  Sure, it is a horror movie for children, but it doesn’t treat them like idiots.  It deals with bullying and being a loner, but it pulls no punches.  That’s not to say that the film is harsh, it is just respectful of children and doesn’t treat them as mindless fools. I was never once shocked by anything that was in the film, but I was also surprised that it took the risks involved with being a smart film for children.

I was surprised by the amount of humor in the film as well.  There is one scene in particular where I had to stifle my laughter.  Norman is conversing with a spirit and the spirit tells him to swear (to take care of the curse).  Norman looks at the spirit and says “Like the f-word?”  I laughed so hard I thought I was going to have to leave the theater for a minute.  It is little bits of things like that that elevate this film above most children’s fare and treats it’s target respectfully.

This is a kids film, so of course there are lessons to be learned from watching it.  So, while it may be a zombie film for the little folks, it does get the message across that bullying is bad and that even adults can make mistakes based on their own fears.  These are both very valuable lessons and the film is not heavy handed in it’s presentation of them and their solutions.  It does get it’s point across and it does it well through the story without resorting to a “what did we learn here today” ending.  (It does have the “leave my brother alone because he’s different” speech, though.)

All in all, I was very pleased by ParaNorman.  While the film never says it is taking place around Halloween, it is one of the few films that actually managed to evoke the ‘feeling’ of Halloween.  Very few films can manage to pull that off.  Just putting characters in costumes is not enough.  Trick ‘r Treat, Hocus Pocusand the video game Costume Quest are the only three examples, other than ParaNorman, that I can come up with at the moment.  It is tricky to pull that off, but this did it in spades.

If you are looking for a nice little Halloween-feeling film at the end of summer, you could do so much worse than this.  Not only that, but it is kid friendly!  I loved ParaNorman, and I have a feeling you will too.

***1/2 out of ****

 

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