A kid who can see dead people. But it’s not The Sixth Sense. The dead rising from their graves to terrorise a small town. But it’s not Night of The Living Dead. A stop-motion feature length film. But it’s not from Aardman. Paranorman is certainly packed full of influences. In telling the story of 10 year old Norman who can see ghosts and is the only one who can save the day from a witches curse, directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell are attempting something ambitious. They’re attempting to take some well known trappings of the horror genre, invert the expectations, change the medium to stop-motion animation, as well as repackage the whole thing for a pre-teen audience. That’s right, it’s a horror movie for kids. The ambition is there, however, the end result is something that left me scratching my head.
Norman is the quiet weird kid who is targeted by bullies for being different. And he is different. Not only because he loves horror movies but because the ghosts of dead people stop him in the street for conversations. Of course nobody believes him except his new friend Neil, who’s also a magnet for bullies because of his weight. Turns out a bunch of Puritans got all lynch mob happy back in the day and killed someone they accused of being a witch. Not always a wise thing to do, especially when it turns out they actually are a witch and curse you. Now in the modern day, it falls to Norman to put an end to the witch’s curse and stop the dead from rising.
The look of this film is amazing. There’s something about well done stop-motion animation that beats out CGI any day. There’s a realness, a tangible nature to it that CGI hasn’t been able to replicate yet. The character designs are great fun and the special effect scenes are amazing. I don’t even want to think about how long it took to put this together. Visually this is a top notch job. My problems however come from the tone and the intended audience. Throughout the movie, I could not put my finger on who they were aiming this film at. And my answer would change every ten minutes. At first I thought it was for genre savvy young teens – 13 year olds who knew the tropes of horror movies but were still young enough to be intrigued by an animated movie. But then towards the end, the story would lose it’s teeth and seem to be reaching out to the 8 year olds in the audience who wanted the scary things on the screen to turn out to be all fumbly and bumbly and fun. But then they add a dollop of adolescent innuendo that makes this too risque for the younger kids. I don’t know who this movie is meant to be for. And I’m not sure the film makers had a clear vision either.
People can react with hate and fear to what they don’t understand. It becomes clear that the real monsters in this film aren’t the zombies but the townspeople who form a lynch mob, acting on ignorance and misplaced instinct. They don’t understand what is going on and they respond with hate. When it comes to the Christian faith, we can often find ourselves in the same position as Norman – hated or mistreated for who we are. As John says in 1 John “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.” (1 John 3:13) His reason for this? We know the truth. We have felt the love of Christ’s sacrificial death. The world doesn’t understand that we are different. That we have changed. Where the response of the world is hate, the response of the saved is love. So just like Norman, we’re not to seek vengeance on those who hate us. We are not to use any power we have to respond in hate. We are to respond with kindness and share the love that God has shown us.
Paranorman is a difficult movie to recommend. It’s visually stunning. But I found it too watered down for the intelligent teenager and too scary and “adult” for kids who like to be grossed out. If you’re a teenager or adult who enjoys the visual appeal of a stop motion ghost/zombie story, check it out. If only for the visuals. But for kids? If you’re a parent, I’d wait until it comes out on DVD and watch it first before deciding if it’s the right movie for your pre-teen.