If I had my way, every animated feature would be created via stop motion. Even with today’s super advanced computers able to create purely digital images that mimic their real world counterparts, stop motion animation exudes a joyful aura computers can’t reproduce. Funny and cheeky at times, ParaNorman loses a bit of that joyful manner when it explores the twisted heart of its tale. This surprising journey makes ParaNorman exceptionally interesting and powerful, but it may turn some parents off.
Norman is a bit of an outcast. He claims to be able to speak with the dead which puts him at odds with everyone from his family to his schoolmates. With no one willing to listen to him or believe him, Norman is a bit of a loner. As the 300th anniversary of his town’s famous “witch hunt” approaches, Norman finds himself surrounded by a new friend and his estranged and highly odd Uncle. Norman is about to learn that the 300 year old tale about a witch’s curse on his town is not only real, but Norman is now the only one who can stop it. With everyone against him, Norman finds himself overwhelmed by this new revelation and fights to right the ship as a set of zombies begin rummaging through town as the curse comes to life.
ParaNorman teeters back and forth with its delivery. The ghost factor of ParaNorman is more of a crux for a larger picture and transparent apparitions are a miniscule addition to an odd story. It begins with some decent cracks at the world’s growing zombie obsession, moving to ghosts, then to witches, back to zombies, and topped off by the witch again. Everything has a place in the completed tale, but sitting through it feels a little shaky, until the real story is unveiled. Altogether, there’s enough light and quirky moments to pull everyone through the experience without much fuss.
At its heart, ParaNorman is just another morality tale dealing with racism and bigotry and how we attack what we are scared of. However, the unflinching atrocity that makes up the center of ParaNorman is so gut wrenching and sophisticated that it feels too grown up to be part of a cute, animated tale. It’s bold and brash in ways, and completely poignant when held up against most of today’s hot button issues. While it’s obvious things are not what they seem and the movie trots along, the truth of it all (while being slightly obvious) is an earth shattering shock, especially in the way it’s visually represented. While Coraline (the previous film Laika Studios worked on) was darker on the whole in its full presentation, the serious and even some of the lighter bits of ParaNorman don’t scream kids movie to me. This should not be seen as a deterrent or warning, but as a statement of praise.
Undeniably, there will be parents who take their children to see ParaNorman and think it was inappropriate for the age range of their youngest. I’ve seen a few animated features recently, geared toward kids that felt way too dark and violent for small ones. ParaNorman however, gets high marks for its dark tone. This is meant to shake you up, while completely entertaining you of course. In many venues today, people think we are coddling the youth of the world too much. The world has become a place where adults do horrible things, but children are shielded from the truth; ParaNorman is here to say, “No more!” It’s not about to hide the truth from your children’s eyes.
Rating: 3 and a half out of 5 ‘Staches