January 8, 2013

ParaNorman (2012)

POOR LITTLE NORMAN BABCOCK. An 11-year-old horror buff, Norman is an outcast at school, his family thinks he’s weird, and he’s harassed daily by school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Oh, one other thing: Norman can speak with the dead. And no one believes him.

Norman’s hometown of Blithe Hollow has a bit of a dark history: Several centuries ago, the townsfolk conjured up a good old-fashioned witch hunt – and hung an accused witch in the process. This lurid chapter in the town’s history is now embedded in its culture, from the names of its stores and restaurants to the tourist trap tchotchkes for sale on every corner.

But things are about to get much more serious: Norman’s seemingly crazy uncle, the homeless Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman), swears he’s been holding back the witch’s curse for years by reading from an ancient book. But after he dies of a heart attack, it’s up to Norman to hold back the curse. What is the curse, you ask? Well, the witch will raise her accusers from the dead on the 300th anniversary of her trial. Which, wouldn’t ya know, is tomorrow.

Of course, Alvin gets in the way of Norman’s attempt to hold back the witch, the curse is unleashed, and seven zombies (the judge of the witch trial and six accusers) rise from their graves and descend on Blithe Hollow – leaving Norman, his only friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), Alvin, Norman’s snotty teen sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and Neil’s dumb jock brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) to try and save the day.

Meanwhile, the zombies do reach the center of town – and in an ironic twist, these undead persecutors become persecuted themselves by Blithe Hollow’s modern townsfolk, who are more vicious, violent, and bloodthirsty than the zombies themselves.

Norman eventually uncovers the true reason for the witch’s curse – one that is really dark and kind of spoilery. It’s here that ParaNorman’s horror-comedy vibe detours to one that’s more emotionally deep, a tonal shift that may turn off some viewers but one that produces a poignant ending that’s equal parts philosophical and phantasmagoric.

Featuring outstanding stop-motion animation and great doses of morbid humor (Norman tussling with Mr. Prenderghast’s corpse had me in hysterics), ParaNorman is ultimately a story about life, death, forgiveness, and letting go. It may not be a modern-day classic, but it’s worth seeking out.


 What did FilmBoy think?
He also thought ParaNorman was good, and he didn’t get scared by any of the action taking place (as a point of reference, he’ll be 10 in April). What caught me happily off-guard was that he laughed at a lot of the same morbid jokes that I did.

Is it suitable for your kids?
ParaNorman is rated PG for “scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language.”
Violence/Scariness: There are many scary images and sequences, especially the presence of the witch in her different forms. The zombies are ghoulish, but are more morbid than menacing. Alvin bullies Norman on several occasions. There’s mild gun violence when the zombies hit town, including a woman blowing a shotgun blast through the judge zombie’s torso. As mentioned earlier, the reason behind the witch’s curse is pretty dark and almost horrifying in its own right.
Language: There are several instances of PG-level language, including “damnation,” “you suck,” “he sucks,” “friggin’,” “the F word,” “boobs,” “jackass,” and “hell, yeah.”
Adult situations: Alvin pinches Courtney’s butt out of frame. A male supporting character mentions his “boyfriend” in passing.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Our FilmMother enjoyed ParaNorman, feeling much sympathy for put-upon, misunderstood Norman but also a bit repulsed at some of the morbid humor.

I can’t get enough of this song played over the end credits of ParaNorman,
“Little Ghost” by The White Stripes:

* Directors: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
* Screenwriter: Chris Butler
* Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Tucker Albrizzi, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill, Jodelle Ferland, Tempestt Bledsoe, Alex Borstein, John Goodman
* MPAA Rating: PG

Rent ParaNorman from Netflix >>

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