I love horror movies.
For my money, horror is the best genre for telling a story and getting a message across, subtext or surface, subtle or screaming. A well-done horror movie will leave its audience thinking about what they saw and felt during the film long after the credits have rolled. It would stand to reason that if you wanted to get a message across to kids, making the message the jelly inside of a fun, witty, and visually stunning horror doughnut is a pretty good idea. Enter ParaNorman.
The latest offering from Laika, who captured our imaginations and pushed the boundaries of the stop-motion medium in Coraline back in 2009, ParaNorman tells the tale of Norman Babcock, an 11-year old outcast just like any other kid who had trouble fitting in at that age. Norman’s father (voiced by the awesome Jeff Garlin) doesn’t understand him and doesn’t care to. Norman’s mother (voiced by Leslie Mann) loves him, but it doesn’t prevent him from being picked on by local bully Alvin (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), or looked down upon by his superficial older sister, Courtney (voiced by Anna Kendrick). So essentially, he’s just like any other kid. Well, except for the fact that he can see and talk to the dead.
Yes, Norman talk to the dead. Actually, he prefers their company. Norman’s outcast status and “freak” label are only exacerbated by the emergence of his estranged uncle Penderghast (voiced by John Goodman), who warns Norman of a centuries-old witch’s curse about to plague the town of Blithe Hollow. Norman, with the help of Neil, his only loyal friend (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi), as well as some unexpected and uneasy allies, must conjure up the courage and compassion necessary to save a town that made Norman a misfit.
At its core, ParaNorman is a children’s movie that breaks the mold. At times, it’s a shining example of tongue-in-cheek horror parody, though for little ones, it may actually provide some spooky moments. For a rabid horror fan such as myself, ParaNorman had me by the throat from the opening credits—clearly, this film was made my folks who share my love for the genre. However, just as clear is the realistic message of acceptance, individuality, and forgiveness stressed by the film. Let’s face it—traditional children’s movies don’t necessarily provide their target audience with realistic expectations. After all, Sleeping Beauty wakes up, Aladdin frees the genie, and they find Nemo (spoiler?). ParaNorman, quite admirably, tells kids that while they may not ever fit in and be accepted by everyone for who they are, it is important to appreciate and love the ones in their lives that do accept them for who they are.
At the end of the day, ParaNorman is incredibly satisfying in how well it succeeds as a quasi-horror parody, a children’s movie, and, most importantly, a movie with something relevant to say. No matter how old you are, ParaNorman truly does have something for everyone. When you combine that with an absolutely masterful level of detail and skill in its art direction and use of stop-motion, with an immersive and visually spectacular use of 3D, ParaNorman just may be the most fun you have at the movies this summer.
An exercise in visual awesomeness with a sense of humor, clear love of the horror genre, and an excellent message, this is one that the whole family will actually enjoy.