Paranorman is horror for kids, both big and small
It’s no small feat to be utterly charmed and spooked all at once, but it’s something director and writer Chris Butler pulls off easily in ParaNorman, a stop-motion scary story that’s really for horror fans, no matter how old they are.
Norman is a little kid with few friends among the living. Lucky for him, he can see and talk to dead people of which there are plenty in his little town of Blithe Hollow, a place with quite a few similarities to Salem, Mass. (ie. They killed a whole whack of witches). As is the norm in witch filled towns, a terrible curse threatens to take out everyone unless Norman finds a way to stop it using his secret power and by finding a few friends among the living.
The story is creative, though filled with little homage’s to well-known scary stories (Norman has a Manos: The Hands of Fate DVD under his bed and the Halloween musical cue makes a surprise appearance).
Cleverly, the film avoids stunt casting voice actors and instead relies on those best for the role. The result is a perfectly cast group of characters. The mark of a good animated film is when you’re so invested in the story you can’t tell who’s voicing it and here ParaNorman succeeds.
That ParaNorman is stop motion offers a tactile feel that sets it apart from traditional or computer animation. In this setting, it works extremely well. Shadows actually cast shadows and the characters actually touch in real life (even if that happens at an extremely slow rate).
Butler is the creative force behind Neil Gaiman’s terrifically creepy tale Coraline and Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride, so it’s no wonder that he can create a convincingly atmospheric New England town. But it differs from the latter in that ParaNorman attempts to broach the subjects of life and death in a way that children can understand and deal with the concepts. There is no black and white in this horror movie. Some of the bad guys are just misunderstood good guys and vice versa.
As an adult, I was struck by how many bittersweet moments the film had. It may go over a small child’s head but ParaNorman’s final message– that kindness wins out every time– is something that will easily resonate even with little tykes (though parents be warned, this film is definitely a little intense for anyone less than eight-years-old).
It’s easy to write-off animated films as “kids movies,” but ParaNorman deserves a look from everybody. You’d be hard pressed to find a film that had more heart or more love for its genre anywhere else in cinemas right now.