ParaNorman is a recently released stop motion animated horror themed comedy that focuses on a boy named Norman Babcock who can see ghosts and must save the town of Blithe Hollow, Mass., the site of a witch trial not unlike the ones that happened in Salem.
As the movie opens, Norman is watching a low budget zombie film with his grandmother’s ghost. They talk a little about the film, and then Norman is called away by his family to take out the garbage. It is here that we are introduced to the rest of the Babcocks. Courtney Babcock, Norman’s older sister is your stereotypical teen girl, with her texting, flirting and toenail painting. She also happens to despise her “freak” younger brother. Norman’s mother, Sandra Babcock, is a bit of a non-character, existing only to defend him against accusations from her husband, Perry Babcock, who doesn’t believe that Norman can actually see ghosts. Perry thinks Norman does it all for attention.
Norman also has an estranged uncle that can also see ghosts, known only as Mr. Prenderghast.
Throughout the course of a day in Norman’s life, he sees ghosts everywhere: On the sidewalk, in trees, at school, even in the bathroom. He, like his uncle, earns a reputation as a “freak” or “weirdo” due to the non-paranormally inclined students seeing him talk to what appears to be thin air.
In addition to ghosts, Norman also has to deal with normal school things like bullies and practicing for a play. At school, Norman makes friends with a boy named Neil, though Neil’s jock of an older brother, Mitch, disapproves, writing Norman as a “freak.” The best part about the friendship between these two boys is that Neil likes Norman because, not only are they both victims of a bully, but Norman is different and being different isn’t a bad thing.
I found that to be an admirable message that the film sends to its child audience, which permeated the entire movie. The “different is not bad” message really hits home in the final moments of the film as the story is winding down after the resolution of the main conflict. It is at this time that a character reveals something about himself that I dare not spoil in these pages.
Back in the 1800s, when Blithe Hollow was still a colonial settlement and not the tourist trap it is in Norman’s time, there was an execution; a witch execution, to be precise. Found guilty of practicing witchcraft, she was condemned to death, but with her dying breath, she cursed the seven men and women of the court that tried her to rise from their graves and terrorize the town on the anniversary of her death. It’s up to Norman to stop this curse and restore peace to Blithe Hollow.
Overall, ParaNorman is a fun romp. It has a good message that doesn’t intrude upon the comedy or horror, but doesn’t detract from it either. The film pays respect to iconic films from the horror genre with out lying too heavily on referential humor. It’s a fun flick that adults will enjoy, but not as much as children will.