If there’s one takeaway from Laika’s new film “Paranorman,” it’s that just because something is different or unusual does not mean it should be ignored; it should be given a chance. This especially applies to “Paranorman” itself, which is not your usual children’s animated film, but is still something that is definitely worth checking out.
“Paranorman” is about the peculiar Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is forced into solitude because of his unusual ability to see and talk to ghosts. His family wishes he could just be normal and the other kids at school bully or shun him. Unknown to the town’s people, Norman’s unusual ability serves a greater purpose. Norman is descended from a line of people given this ability with the purpose of keeping a 300-year-old witch’s curse at bay. Unfortunately for Norman, he is never properly instructed on how to keep the curse away and finds himself, and a surprising entourage, on a journey against zombies and the witch, attempting to stop the curse once and for all.
“Paranorman” is like a mash-up of “Hocus Pocus” meets “Frankenstein.” It’s like “Hocus Pocus” because it is the family friendly paranormal comedy about a witch’s curse and an unusual group of kids that have to save the day. The humor in the two films are also very similar.
“Paranorman” is like “Frankenstein” because there is an overarching theme about misunderstood people and not being a bully. “Sometimes, when people get scared, they say and do terrible things,” Norman’s grandmother wisely says. In “Frankenstein,” Dr. Frankenstein’s monster was forced into solitude and attacked by the town’s people because he was different and the town’s people didn’t understand him. It didn’t end well for Frankenstein’s monster. In “Paranorman,” he’s also forced into solitude because people don’t understand him. And it isn’t just him. There are misunderstood zombies (the townspeople have a very “Frankenstein” moment toward the zombies), Norman’s one friend is shunned for being overweight and even the root of the curse breaks down into a misunderstanding. While not everyone can relate to a trait like speaking to ghosts, everyone should be able to relate to feeling misunderstood or bullied for being different in some sort of regard. The big anti-bully lesson really comes to fruition in the film’s climax.
What makes “Paranorman” so great are the tiny little details, especially those that pay homage to other films (this film really loves 80s and 90s horror). While a kid is sure to chuckle at some of the more slapstick comedy, there are plenty of little gems that are clearly meant for adults. For example, Norman’s phone goes off — the ringtone is the theme from “Halloween.” He looks out the window to see a person wearing a hockey mask. “Want to play some hockey?” Cue the chuckles. Perhaps the best laugh comes when true horror – the horror of a long wait for an item in a vending machine – is executed in the midst of a zombie attack. Pretty much everything with the zombies was hilarious and for the first time that I can remember, a film shows zombies reacting to seeing modern conveniences for the first time. Brilliant.
Another detail that worked well were how camera tricks were used to pay homage to the horror genre. The film starts in a square shape, which is supposed to be a TV screen. Sound booms breaking into frame act as homage to B grade horror movies. There are even solar flares used in scenes — this is stuff you never see in animations. Speaking of the animation, the animation of “Paranorman” is a bit to get used to in this day and age of glossy CGI-animations. Laikia made this using stop motion models, so the overall look is really different, but a lot more textured than what most animated fans are probably used to. The result is great for this film and everything looks really smooth for being the first stop motion 3D film.
“Paranorman” is a bit unusual, but if you’re willing to take a chance on something different, you’re going to be rewarded. This is a fun film with a good lesson for any age. I wouldn’t be surprised if this became an instant Halloween family classic.