Review Submitted by George Gensler
Full disclosure: I was invited by Focus Features to attend an advance press screening of ParaNorman. Note, I hate spoilers in reviews, so there won’t be any in this one.
I knew very little about this film (which is how I like it), and hadn’t seen Coraline (this team’s first film), so I had no expectations going into it. ParaNorman is a subtle parody of the classic monster movie genre; built around a story both thoughtful and complex. I’m not sure this movie lives up to the potential of the story, though, and it felt like there were story threads that were dropped or glossed over in favor of the visual elements of the movie. Overall, the missed story elements did not detract too much from the striking visual elements of the film and the monster movie references were fun to spot.
“Sometimes people say mean things because they’re afraid . . . not of you, for you.”
Our hero, Norman Babcock, has unique talents that set him apart from others, making him the target of bullying, both within his family and in his community at large. His allies aren’t particularly substantial, so they can’t do much to help, but he doesn’t seem all that bothered by the bullying, either, showing an impressive confidence for such a young boy. Throughout the film, he stands by his talents and beliefs, refusing to back down or hide them. When charged with saving the town, he finds his own way to do it, understanding somehow, when none of his predecessors could, that the previous solutions were just a Band-aid and that he needs to get to the root of the problem, not just allay the symptoms.
“I’ll come back and haunt Norman and then maybe he’ll listen to me.”
The town is as much a character of the film as any of the more traditional characters. As Norman walks to school, greeting passersby of all types (and eras), Blithe Hollow doesn’t just whisper of Salem, Massachusetts, it screams out: “Guess who!” Witchy references abound, even to the school play celebrating the “300th Anniversary of the Blithe Hollow Witch.” The town stands as a silent, mocking, bullying background, taunting and even driving the narrative at certain times in the film.
“I’ve cheered the uncheerable and I’m not letting you give up now.”
The townsfolk, as in all good monster stories, begin as individuals, then draw into a single unit (a blob, of sorts?), acting under mob rule until the spell is broken and the mob breaks apart again to individual people. In this film, the story cleverly calls for the townsfolk to unwittingly reverse roles with their prey, becoming the monsters they’re trying to vanquish.
“If I’d known there was reading involved, I’d have brought a totally different group of people who hate me.”
There are a number of messages in this movie, some fleeting, like the ghost of a bird with its head caught in the plastic rings of a six-pack, and others more powerful, like the general anti-bullying theme of the movie. Essentially, we’re told that bullying has been a societal norm for centuries and that the wounds can carry on for generations. Steadfastness and confidence are lauded – Norman sticks to his guns and eventually brings everyone around to his side, though, not until they are exposed to his true talents and become, themselves, believers. There is also compassion for the bullies, who find themselves out of their depth, struggle against others’ misconceptions about them, and, in the end, learn that being small and/or different doesn’t necessarily make you weak or, more importantly, dangerous.
“The geeks are in charge.”
For those who enjoy historical accuracy, there is an etymological anachronism in the film.
The witch wants her “mommy,” but Mommy didn’t appear until almost 150 years after the witch died.
For those interested in extras, especially those curious about the filmmaking process, stick around through the credits, which are backed by comic-book styling (perhaps even some storyboard art) and cute animations, for a final clip (that is not at all related to the story).
“There’s always someone out there for you somewhere.”
The animation of ParaNorman was different from the styles I’m used to: Disney, Pixar, Aardman. I grew up watching Miyazaki anime series, like “Heidi” and “3000 Leagues in Search of Mother.” Most of the animation I’ve seen has been… pretty. ParaNorman, most decidedly, isn’t pretty. The characters and scenery are caricaturistic in both their appearance and portrayal. Over the course of the film, however, they become more appealing, whether that’s due to changes in the puppetry/animation or to the nature of the character, I’m not entirely sure. My favorite bit of animation is towards the end – the bright golden radiance of the witch during the final confrontation with the hero. The stop-motion animation is used to excellent effect here, adding a depth to the scenes and, again, hearkening back to the classic monster movie effect.
“There’s nothing wrong with being scared, so long as you don’t let it change who you are.”
Though I am not a monster movie buff, I can see how those who are will be delighted with all of the subtle and not-so-subtle references to classic monster movies. My favorite references were from Scooby Doo. There are some fun sight gags, too (mom jeans in animation are even funnier than in real life). ParaNorman is a fun film for monster movie buffs and tween or older kids; however, I think younger children might be frightened by the monsters and the dark scenes.
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Bio: George Gensler is a copyrights specialist during the week and a runner on the weekends. She lives in New York City now, but has lived in five countries on three continents. She grew up traveling the world, but her official residence was in Southern California and every visit home included a trip to Disneyland. She has also visited every Disney Park around the world and sailed on board two Disney cruises. She threw in a visit to the Disney Family museum in San Francisco for good measure, and has had the Premier Disney Park Pass since its inception.