ParaNorman

PN1

Young Norman has a special gift that allows him to talk to ghosts only he can see, a gift that has made him a social outcast in his small, New England town, but when a witch’s curse raises the dead of Blithe Hollow only Norman’s ability to communicate with the dead and his love of zombie movies can save them.

Norman was a character I began to relate to right from the start of ParaNorman due mainly to his love of zombie films at such a young age. As hard as it is to believe, yours truly was once a small boy with a pulse and a heartbeat. Yes, before I became the sassy, sassy means argumentative in a manly way right, zombie you know today, I was a little boy who adored zombie films, and it started when I was very young, seven to be exact. That was when my uncle snuck me out of the house to go see Night of the Living Dead at a shitty little 99 Cent theatre by my house, a theater where you touched as little as you possibly could and didn’t dare eat anything from the concession stand unless you wanted to find out exactly how many stomach parasites you could survive. It was a pretty disgusting place, but they showed a lot of older horror movies and some of the foreign flicks you couldn’t see anywhere else, so for a burgeoning film buff it was worth the risk of whatever medieval style diseases were running rampant. Theatres like that are romanticized as grindhouse theatres now, as if they weren’t nasty places whose only value was in seeing movies you wouldn’t normally be able to see in a theatre, sometimes movies you might not be able to see at all. They definitely had their value, but they weren’t overly great places. Anyways, it was at that theatre that I was introduced to zombie cinema, and it started my love for the genre. Though I was most assuredly worried about the zombies that were now inevitably going to be showing up at my door, I couldn’t keep from trying to watch as many zombie movies as I could find, surrounding myself with the undead. In that way I completely found myself thinking of Norman as a very young me, just with cooler things than I had at that age like a zombie alarm clock that with a hand bursting from the grave, a zombie toothbrush where the brush was popping through a zombie’s eye, and zombie slippers. Those slippers would have been especially awesome when I was a kid, but considering I now have authentic zombie feet I guess it all worked out in the end.

Our film begins in the small town of Blithe Hollow where zombie loving Norman has a unique and special talent, talking to ghosts that haven’t been able to cross over to whatever it is that awaits us after life. He’s gotten rather used to his gift and the ridicule it brings from the people of Blithe Hollow who think him to be a loon, but on this day his life is about to change dramatically. He starts the day like any other, a morning zombie movie with his dead grandmother, a walk to school greeting all the ghosts he’s come to know, and then facing the scorn of people that not only don’t understand what he can do, but don’t believe it either. He does get one bright spot in the day though in meeting chubby kid Neil, another bullied outcast that’s impressed with Norman’s ability and could care less what others think. That bright spot is quickly sullied during a play rehearsal of a town legend about a witch that was put to death three hundred years ago, cursing those that executed her and forcing them to rise from their graves in a never ending cycle of torment. While everyone else tries to act out their various parts, Norman has a vision in which the stage goes black and he finds himself alone and in a forest, a mysterious omen of things to come that he doesn’t understand. Norman and Neil head home afterward but run into some trouble in the form of Norman’s insane uncle Mr. Prenderghast whom it turns out has the same ability as Norman and has been using it all these years to keep the witch’s ghost asleep somehow. Mr. Prenderghast isn’t fully able to divulge exactly how he’s kept her asleep all these years since Neil chases him off and Prenderghast has a heart attack soon after, leaving Norman clueless as to how he’s supposed to carry on his uncle’s work. This unfortunate lack of knowledge leads to the witch’s curse being let loose upon Blithe Hollow, and those that put the witch to death so long ago are rising from the graves as the very same zombies Norman loves so much, only these zombies aren’t on the screen, they’re shambling their way into town and Norman might be the only one capable of stopping them.

{Yeah, that’d be my face too}

It’s been very hard to not add a “Norman sees dead people,” line in this review, thus the reason I mentioned it as being hard not to mention so that I could get the mentioning of it out of my system. The one bad joke I could not avoid making aside, and my sincerest apologies for that by the way, ParaNorman is an astounding flick that was one of the best stop motion movies I have ever seen. I’d even go so far as to say it’s absolutely the best stop motion film I’ve ever seen. The stop motion camera work is damn near flawless and entirely fluid throughout, it’s so fluid that there were times I felt like I was watching traditional, hand drawn animation. It was just so amazing to see how far stop motion has come from the days of Christmas specials where the stop motion made them look a little epileptic. Don’t get me wrong, I watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer every Christmas, but man those puppets seem like they need a doctor. Even one of my favorite movies of all time, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas looks a bit jerky at times, but not ParaNorman. ParaNorman is easily the most natural looking stop motion film out there, surpassing the previous title holder Coraline. Beyond how fluid and natural the film played was how gorgeous it looked, with some truly amazing looking creations that had a very b-movie feel to them, something the designers were going for when they created both the puppets and the design of Blithe Hollow. The team behind the design wanted everything to have a very campy, old school look, but a look that was updated from that to present a more modern version that retained the older feeling. It was a smashing success. The characters, the zombies among them, have an interesting appearance that seemed over the top and at the same time serious enough to have fit in with the original Night of the Living Dead. The zombies in particular look wonderfully whimsical and at the same time slightly unnerving, being the type of zombies you would have been happy with in any zombie flick but something the younger among you can enjoy as well. Part of what made everything work so well was the use of full-color 3D printers, something that ParaNorman was the first stop motion film to utilize. Not only did this help in making the puppets to look as spectacular as they did, but it also allowed them to create a greater number of puppet models which led to how fluid the film turned out thanks to the ability to showcase a greater range of movement and emotion.

PN3{I’d hang out with them}

While the stop motion animation is the thing that impressed me most about ParaNorman, and I can’t say enough the talent shown in how amazing it was, I was also impressed by how much work was put into making this something that any kid could get into, but something adults would also be able to enjoy. The story is a great example of this, while it is a fun, almost light hearted homage to the zombie movies of past decades, there’s a bit of a message to the film as well. It takes a look at the fear that comes from not understanding someone or something and how people don’t always react rationally when dealing with that fear. Norman’s ability to talk to the dead isn’t something Blithe Hollow is fond of, finding it to be the ravings of a kid with a few too many screws loose. They don’t believe him at first, but rather than try and talk to the boy, they simply avoid him as often as possible, preferring to ignore the “weird” kid despite him being a pleasant individual with a mostly positive outlook on life. They don’t understand him and have no desire to even try to get to know him, leaving him as the outcast of the town. Then later on, when the dead have risen and the townsfolk have been forced to deal with something they can’t understand, they don’t try and figure it out, they find a scapegoat they can blame it all on, in this case Norman, and pursue punishing him for their situation. There is actually a whole lot more to the story of the witch’s curse, and I don’t want to ruin anything for you, but Norman is the only one capable of figuring it out and putting an end to the curse once and for all. Instead of requesting his help they nearly burn him at the stake, almost repeating the exact set of circumstances that caused the curse’s creation in the first place. It was a great commentary on people’s irrational fear of things they don’t understand and the tragedy that can happen when that fear takes control, sometimes allowing history to repeat itself in the worst ways when a prior lesson is forgotten. This commentary never gets preachy and is setup in a way that kids of all ages can understand and adults can appreciate. Balancing out the message of fear and misunderstanding is one of acceptance and tolerance in the form of Norman’s one friend Neil who stands by Norman no matter who turns against him. Neil never lets the intolerance of others get him down, remaining true to himself and his friends regardless of the misguided hatred those around them are showing.

PN5{Torches are a must for any mob gathering}

While a kid’s movie at its heart there were more than a few times the film started to veer into more adult territory, never in a way that went too far in my opinion, but it was surprising none the less. Some of it was in the way brutality was not shied away from at any time during the movie, but it never became gratuitous or anything close to something kids couldn’t deal with as it was always handled well. I understand that requires some explaining so let me give a few examples:

  • One example is fairly early on when we first see how many ghosts Norman talks to on a daily basis as he makes his way to school in the morning and stops to say hi to the many ghosts standing around on the street. Among the ghosts are a gangster stuck in the same cement block he had around his feet when he was thrown into a river, an air woman implied to be Amelia Earhart whose parachute’s malfunction ended with her impaled on a branch, and a woman with sizzled hair asking if anyway can smell what’s burning, implying that she either burnt to death or was electrocuted. They’re fairly horrifying when you think about it, but with the way it’s presented, with the ghosts not seeming to mind their unfortunate circumstances too much, it doesn’t comes across as gruesome in the slightest, and it sets up the wide ranging amount of ghosts Norman communicates with.
  • The entire reason behind the curse is eventually fully explained, and it is fairly horrible, not to mention disturbing, but the way they focus more on the emotional impact of it instead of how awful the circumstances were makes the reveal more poignant and moving than anything else. It is most assuredly sad, but the way it was played out made you think more about how she felt than the gory details.
  • The mob that gathers after the zombies have appeared is a fairly blood thirsty bunch, willing to punish their scapegoat by burning down the town hall where he’s hiding. They are all worked up into such a frenzy they can’t see how crazy they’ve gone, even joking about whether or not it was okay to hang someone in the 21st century. What made it a valuable scene though rather than something that might just scar a young child was in showing the mob reacting as one would expect a zombie horde to act. In completely giving in to their fear they had become the very things they were so afraid of in the first place.

These are some of the bigger examples but are nowhere near all of them with a few of the others not being as important to the story, but still never going too far. The only one I thought might have come close was a scene where Norman is mercilessly pummeled by the witch, but even this was to show how much of her original humanity the witch had lost, so it was by far not pointless.

PN4{At least Norman is never alone}

ParaNorman was a phenomenal film that any zombie fan is going to love, especially those wanting to introduce their own little ones to the zombie genre. If you haven’t seen it I would recommend checking it out.

 

The Undead Review

 

Directed By: Chris Butler and Sam Fell (Flushed Away, The Tale of Despereaux)

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road, Let Me In), Tucker Albrizzi (Spooky Buddie, Treasure Buddies), Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Life After Beth), Casey Affleck (Interstellar, Ocean’s Eleven), and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Kick-Ass, Superbad)

Written By: Chris Butler

Released By: Focus Features and Laika Entertainment

Release Year: 2012

Release Type: Theatrical Release

MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Rotten Head: Five Heads Out of Five

About The Undead Review

When I was alive I was an asshole and after I died remained pretty much the same, if not a little worse. You’d think becoming a member of the walking dead would mellow a person out, no more worrying about awkward small talk with people, no more having to be politically correct, and the entire world is your upright, bipedal buffet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell to be a zombie, just somewhat irritating at times, especially those times you have to watch a lame movie or read a lame book. Thankfully, when I am forced to watch these films or read those books, I’ve got places like The Undead Review to bitch and moan to my heart’s content. {When he’s not devouring the living or sinking his teeth into a good film The Undead Review (Andy Taylor) spends his time writing his own stories or hunting down the paranormal. Oh, and did we mention his blind dog once saved the world?)
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