Zombies With Heart – A ParaNorman Review
WITH THE VOICE TALENTS OF: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Anna Kendrick, Jeff Garlin
DIRECTOR: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
STUDIOS: Focus Features, Universal Pictures, Laika
RUN TIME: 90 min
RELEASED: August 17, 2012
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
As an adult watching a kids movie, I found ParaNorman to be highly enjoyable. It had very little of the three things that annoy me most in kids movies:
1. Characters whose voices suddenly become animated or over the top for no reason (Star Wars fans might call this the ”Jar Jar Binks effect.”
2. Jokes that downplay the amazing in favor of the mundane. For instance: “Jimmy! Get off that rocket and do your homework!” or “Timmy! After you stop that alien invasion you are grounded!”
3. Anything Ed Helms did in The Lorax. God, that movie offends me.
I understand how all these elements appeal to little kids, and ParaNorman isn’t completely devoid of them. But to me they feel like annoying cheap tricks. Maybe that’s just the cranky adult in me. In any event, ParaNorman‘s low annoyance level earned it high marks early on. Its heartfelt message, packaged in a cool stop motion zombie story kept its marks high until the credits rolled.
Our main character is Norman, a boy who can (say it like Haley Joel Osment…) see dead people. He’s known as the town freak, is ridiculed by his peers, his sister, and even his own father. Then, Norman is visited by his seemingly deranged uncle (loonily voiced by John Goodman), who tells him the 300th anniversary of a witch’s execution is approaching, and he must perform a bizarre ritual to keep the town from descending into chaos. Little does Norman know that the dead are about to rise…
I get the feeling this movie was written with America’s so-called “bullying epidemic” in mind. The movie encourages viewers to embrace what makes them unique, and to rise above those who would shun them for it. It shows us how fearing our differences can push us to do horrible things. But it also turns the tables a bit, and explains that those who have been ridiculed and isolated for their differences can’t completely turn away from people, for fear of isolating themselves. This is delightfully illustrated in the relationship between the straight-faced Norman and the goofy character of Neil.
The movie doesn’t necessarily break any new ground in terms of its message, or even its quirky humor. But it has a good moral center, and it executes the “loner who turns out to be the hero” story really well. The stock characters, i.e. the bratty older sister, the clueless jock, the dumb bully, the irritable father and the sympathetic mother all serve their purpose, and are performed effectively.
The film obviously has a great visual hook because of its stop-motion style. Every character is put together like a caricature, i.e. Norman’s big ears, his sister’s strangely Kardashian-like butt, etc. I was a bit off put by the design of Norman’s mother’s face, which looks like it’s been caved in for some reason. But all in all, the movie is fun to look at.
ParaNorman manages to hit most of the right notes, and is a film that parents won’t want to punish their kids for making them see. I’m not sure it’s a classic by any means, but it does it’s job very well.
All images from rottentomatoes.com.