TBT: ‘Paranorman’ Halloweeny Review
So I’d like to spotlight some Halloween films that I thought were deserving of some extra press and some extra praise. Some might look at all of the good reviews for the 2012 film and think, “wasn’t that really well reviewed?” and it was, but for me quite simply… all the good reviews for this movie aren’t good enough! This review will contain spoilers, be warned.
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 5
Have I said before how much I love stop-motion animation? Yes? Well too bad I’m saying it again! Also you know what else I really love? Children’s movies that treat their audience like they’re intelligent. I’m a fan of a quote from Dr. Seuss that goes, “Children are just as smart as you are. The main difference is they don’t know so many words,” and I think this movie truly understands that. So let’s get the technical stuff out of the way. It looks beautiful. It’s probably the best looking stop-motion animation in a film ever. It’s practically TMS “Akira” level detailed in not just the movements but even just the textures are completely on point. At times it almost looks real if not for the asymmetrical design of everything has that kind of reminds me a little of German Expressionism and of course the right amount of that stop-motion jerkiness that us fans love. They did say they used some CGI enhancements and even some traditional 2-D animation mixed in but it is all so well integrated that it all looks and feels the same. The voice acting from all the actors, from the well-established to the newcomers, is solid and never feels false or too cartoony. Alright now let’s go into the plot and the themes.
Here’s a quick summary. A boy named Norman who is obsessed with monster films also has the ability to see and talk to ghosts. No one in the town believes him and his family would prefer to keep it a secret except for his best friend Neil. Norman’s crazy uncle who also sees ghosts warns of some evil curse that Norman must stop but dies before he can explain all of it. Norman tries to stop the curse but thanks to incomplete information fails to stop the zombies from rising and descending on his town. During this Norman is also getting progressively worse and worse visions of the witch who originally cursed the town. Now for the spoiler part so if you don’t want to know anymore then turn back now. So while looking for answers he realizes that he has to put the witch to sleep by reading a bedtime story. When that doesn’t work he gets his final vision that explains the truth about the curse and the witch’s backstory. She was just a little girl with similar powers in colonial times that was tried and killed by the village elders who are now the zombies. Using their information he finds the witch Aggie’s resting place and goes to confront her. Eventually doing so and saving the day and gaining the admiration of the entire town.
Where to start first, the overall moral of this movie is pretty basic. Don’t judge people just because they are different. But the film has other things to say that all tie into that central idea. So we have our main character Norman that we can immediately identify with. Almost everyone has felt his loneliness at one time or another. Some scenes are almost hard to watch and you feel so bad for this kid. Just seeing the way the other members of this town look at him is kinda heartbreaking. One of the big ideas of the film is summed up early by Neil saying, “If you were bigger and more stupid, you’d probably be a bully too,” and this is supported by the other characters in the film. Angry Aggie (the witch) was basically Norman as a girl in the past. She probably didn’t have as strong of a support group like Norman growing up in a harsher stricter time where people would be even more afraid of her than Norman. Because in colonial times their only explanation would be something more sinister. You get the sense that if Norman didn’t have Neil as a friend and his life continued down the way it was going he might have become a monster like Aggie.
Speaking of the film itself foreshadowing some of it’s themes; the very beginning gives away the solution. The film begins with a great parody of a zombie B-movie. While Norman watches the ghost, his grandma watches the movie zombie eat the actress’ brain and says a typical grandma line like, “I’m sure if they just bothered to sit down and talk it through, it’d be a different story.” And do you want to guess what saves the day? It isn’t brute force, or Norman finding some supernatural way to combat the curse like most other films. It’s only by talking and connecting with Aggie as a person does he finally break the cycle of anger and fear and thus lift the curse and allow Aggie to pass on.
So now let’s back up and look at those zombie characters. As I said it turns out they are the village elders who put Aggie to death. It means they are child murderers. I think most people today consider the witch trials to be a black mark on the human species. So many people needlessly killed for no reason thanks to paranoia. It’s not hard to see why famous writers have turned that bit of history into great stories of how evil people can manipulate everyone’s fear and make something even worse (ex: “The Crucible” or “The Black Death”). However also remember how this story functions. You feel sorry for the zombies. At first it’s played for laughs that they are hopelessly out of time when they get to the town are are hilariously overwhelmed by all of our modernness. But even after we still learn what they did we can still feel sorry for them. They’ve been under this curse since colonial times. Yes, what they did was wrong no doubt, but this movie actually has the courage to show them in a sympathetic light. Heck that’s something most “adult” films wouldn’t even have the sophistication to do. The leader zombie, when asked by Norman how they could have done what they did to Aggie (“she was just a little girl”), responds with “we were afraid.” That’s an important thing to remember about the witch trials, while some did use it to their own selfish desires, many involved were God fearing people who had a limited understanding of the world and how it worked. Aggie has all the right to be angry at what they did to her, but the film shows in a way any kid could understand about how important it is to let go of anger, how it only makes things worse. It’s an extremely important lesson for kids and it’s these themes that are present and so well handled in a kid’s film that makes me love it so.
Entertainment Value – 5
Here’s how I first saw the film. I was aware of it but missed it in theaters. Later while visiting my sister and her husband and child, we decided to put something on for the kid and by the end of the movie all of us, the boy and all of us adults, were entranced by the film. It is a funny movie, most of the gags are very clever. There are some juvenile type jokes but no matter how sophisticated the kid’s movie that’s to be expected. But honestly there are only a few like that and even by kid movie standards they’re pretty tame.
However, one of the best jokes comes right at the very end. Throughout most of the film Norman’s older sister Courtney has been lusting after Neil’s older brother Mitch. We’ve seen this sort of comedic set-up in lots of movies before. The girl likes the guy but he’s totally oblivious to it, completely missing all these perfect signs the girl throws out. Typically that ends with the girl finally trying to just come out and say she likes him and then a twist. The boy asks her out on a date and happy ending for the new couple. “ParaNorman” puts an interesting spin on it. Instead, here when Courtney finally just straight asks Mitch out to see a movie he says, “that sounds great Kathy, (he never learns her name) you’re going to love my BOYFRIEND. He’s like a total chick flick nut!” I truly thought I had misheard the movie the first time watching. No way a mainstream kids movie would put a joke like that in there but they did and I’m glad. That joke required balls in this day and age with gay rights still being a hot topic. I know a lot of parents apparently freaked out that this movie dared to acknowledge that gay people exist but I think in time when this is no longer a hot topic issue this film will age better. Afterall a wise man once said, “change comes at the speed of a hearse.” And now come to think of it, it’s not just a funny joke but it ties into the overall themes of the movie itself.
Is the film too intense? I don’t think so or at least not in the conventional sense. The sequences with the zombies might be a little scary at first for the younger viewers but they turn into comedic characters fairly quickly and (as stated before) into tragic characters. Where the film gets intense is in its themes which I think the kids won’t fully grasp at first but will catch more and more of it as they get older and will appreciate that this movie from their youths didn’t talk down to them. It just has it all in fantastic balance.
And I just need to mention this. Jon Brion’s score is amazing for this film. It hits all of the right notes throughout. However the best part comes from the climax but you know what sucks about it and is really my only complaint with the film? It’s not on the soundtrack. The best track in the score is missing from the CD. There is a track called “Aggie Fights” but not only is it not the music from that scene, it’s not any music from the movie at all. It’s a totally different musical cue. I’ve heard the reason is that the track on the soundtrack is the original music Brion composed, then late into post-production he rewrote the music and there wasn’t enough time to update the soundtrack. It’s so frustrating because not only is it the best music in the movie but there’s no reason not to make it available. I’d gladly pay for it. Heck I’d gladly pay for the entire soundtrack if it meant I’d get that one track. If I ever meet Brion I’m going to have to ask him about it. I’ll probably even grab whatever cash I have on me and just give it to him if it means I could get a MP3 of that track. Please make it happen!
Rewatchability – 5
Oh yes this is re-watchable, I’ve re-watched it almost every Halloween since seeing it for the first time and it hasn’t gotten old. But you know what’s really fun? Introducing this to new people and watching them become fans too.
I think a number of people probably wrote this off as an uninspired kids film from the trailers. However if you watch "Paranorman," you'll see it's one of the best, most intelligent, gripping kids films in a long time. The film practically oozes the Halloween spirit. It will become a chariest classic for future generations and no I don't think I'm overselling it with that pronouncement. I easily give this a perfect 5 stars out of 5. Nuff said!