Posted on August 16, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor, and language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language ("boobs"), reference to "the f-word"
Alcohol/ Drugs: Brief joke about steroid use
Violence/ Scariness: Cheerfully gruesome storyline about zombies and ghosts with some comic but disturbing images, characters in peril, character dies of natural causes, discussion of the historic abuse and killing of people thought to be witches, bullies
Diversity Issues: Tolerance a theme of the movie, diverse characters include a gay character, some making fun of people who are not intelligent
Date Released to Theaters: August 20, 2012
Date Released to DVD: November 26, 2012 ASIN: B005LAII62

While digital animators create algorithms that replicate real life textures and weights and movements so perfectly they can seem real-er than reality, the small but preposterously dedicated stop-motion animators create their own three-dimensional world and invite us inside.  Like its predecessor at LAIKA, “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” is a spookily gothic-tinged tale, and, like “Coraline,” everything you see on screen was really built and really moved, a fraction of a fraction of a millimeter at a time.  The touch, and touchability of everything we see adds to the magic, and each setting, prop, and character is so lovingly detailed that it rewards repeated viewings.

Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) loves to watch old zombie movies with his grandmother as she knits on the living room sofa.  Until his parents remind him that his grandmother is dead.

Yes. Norman sees dead people.   Perhaps that is why his hair is constantly standing on end.  He is fine with it, but it bothers everyone around him.  His parents (Jeff Garlin and  Leslie Mann) worry about him, his teenage sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) is annoyed by him, and at school everyone either ignores or bullies him.

When a creepy ghost (John Goodman) appears in the boys’ bathroom at school to warn him that the town will be attacked by zombies, he explains that only Norman can stop them.  Before sunset, he must read aloud from an ancient tome at the grave of the witch whose curse turned seven local citizens into zombies centuries before.  The lore of the witch’s curse is so central to the town’s identity that there is a statue of a witch in the town square, several local businesses have witchy names, and Norman’s school pageant is a re-telling of the story.  Three hundred years ago, when the local citizens condemned a witch to death, she used her powers to condemn them to spending eternity as zombies.  But the secret of the book helps Norman discover that the zombies and the witch are not what he thought.

With references to “Scooby-Doo” and “The Goonies,” “ParaNorman” expertly balances scary and funny elements of the story, with a surprisingly heartwarming conclusion.  “It’s all right to be scared,” Norman’s grandmother explains, “as long as it doesn’t change who you are.”  Norman, Courtney, his friend Neil, Neil’s dim brother Mitch (Casey Affleck), and school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) have to work together to try to save the town.

The voice performances are excellent and the visuals are dazzling.  Every item from the houses to the cars to the lockers in the schools is just a little off-kilter and every detail from Norman’s alarm clock to the zombie’s sagging skin is designed with endless wit and skill.  The score by Jon Brion keeps things nicely spooky and the resolution is satisfying.  It is too bad that the thoughtful points it makes about bullying are undercut by making fun of not one but two characters who are not bright.  The message of reconciliation, kindness, and appreciating differences is a good one, and it should extend to all of the movie’s characters.

Parents should know that this movie’s themes concern zombies and ghosts, and each child will react differently.  Some will be enjoyably scared and some will find it funny but even with a reassuring conclusion to the story, some may find the images or storyline upsetting.  The film has comic but gruesome images, characters in peril, reference to historic abuse and execution of those claimed to be witches — reassuringly and often humorously presented but some elements of the story and images may be disturbing to children.  There is also brief potty humor, a joke about steroids, and a refreshingly positive portrayal of a gay character (a teenage boy briefly mentions his boyfriend).

Family discussion: Who was right about Norman, his mother or his father, and why?  Why did Neil want to be friends with Norman?  How did Norman help the witch?

If you like this, try: “Monster House,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “The Corpse Bride,” and “Coraline”


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15 Replies to “ParaNorman”

  1. Subtle touch: The story is set in Blithe Hollow, a mashup of Oscar Wilde’s “Blithe Spirit” (about a man haunted by the ghosts of his late wives) and Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman).

  2. ParaNorman was awesome, hands down the best animated film of the year (although we still have Frankenweenie to look forward to and Hotel Transylvania looks good). One thing about the film that really impressed me was its honesty. If there really were a kid like Norman, he probably would be seen as a freak by the other kids (and his parents)and Neil’s comment that “If you were bigger and dumber, you’d be a bully too” might seem harsh, but it’s the truth whether we like it or not. This film proves that children’s entertainment doesn’t have to be childish or talk down to its audience and it’s nice that the animation industry is realizing that kids are intelligent and hearty enough to handle somthing like this. Interesting note: This film was originally pitched to Disney back in the 80s. I bet they wish they’d taken it now, eh?

  3. Very concerned that you are a religious site and you say “refreshing positive portrayal of a gay character”. I believe we should show gay people no harm and to show them love, but not to condone their lifestyle choice. That is against Biblical teachings. Would you say “refreshing positive portray of a drunk character” if he was a drunk? Let’s not fall into the trap of stopping the true teachings of the Bible just because society is saying “gay” is okay because it is not according to God. Society does not dictact the laws of God, God does. Lev. 18:22 and Lev. 20:13 are just 2 examples you may want to review.

    1. It always saddens me deeply when people who represent themselves as believers use that to justify harsh judgment and lack of compassion. I am sorry that people who see your comment will find their worst stereotypes of people of faith reinforced. Those who call on themselves to represent believers should be especially careful to demonstrate the compassion and unselfishness that will inspire others to come closer to God.

      Many people of faith wholeheartedly love and support gay people and I am proud to be one of them. I will always endorse the positive and un-stereotyped portrayal of gay people and their relationships. Your analogy to alcohol abuse is inapposite; the two are very different. And unless you follow all of the laws of Leviticus with equal diligence, I do not believe selective citation of those passages, which are often misunderstood and mistranslated, is valid. There is no such thing as showing them love but not condoning them. We show them the love they deserve by loving them as God made them and supporting them in loving those God has called on them to love.

  4. It saddens me to know that many people who say they are believers, now a days, pick and choose what they will follow regarding what the Bible says. Is the Bible not the word of God? If you are a believer then you would follow His word correct? Not just the parts of the Bible that suit you.

    “Don’t fool yourself. Those who live immoral lives such as homosexuals will not share in the kingdom of God.” If you do not believe that, but believe the Bible then you have sadly been lead astray on that point. What I have just quoted in this paragraph is word for word out of I Cor. 6:9-10. It was written by the Apostle Paul. This is not a selective passage as the whole chapter discusses what man should and should not do in life as a believer. It is definetly not my judgement, it is God’s. That’s why I was so stunned to read what a suposidly religious site had written in review of a child’s movie.

    And yes you can love someone and not condone their actions. For example: a parent can love their child, but not condone their actions of say stealing, or smoking or lying or drug abuse. Loving someone and agreeing with their actions are two very differnet things. Perhaps getting to know the word will help you. I hope you find your way and that God will bless you fully. We need to follow His word and not societies regarding our moral compass.

    1. And it isn’t picking and choosing to select one part of Leviticus but not the rest? Do you keep kosher? I pray God will bless you with a greater understanding of His purpose and the ability love all of His creations.

      Note: I have removed your most recent comment for violating the rules of this site. Beliefnet says on every page: “Our mission is to help people like you find, and walk, a spiritual path that will bring comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness.” We welcome people of all beliefs and those who are seeking. Your comments reflect an ignorance about religion — and about homosexuality — and a hostility to people of different faiths that is not acceptable here.

      Again, I have deleted your other comment. I appreciate your prayers and you are already in mine. You are always welcome here, but if you are looking for a perspective on movies that replicates what you already believe, there are many other sources for you. And, if you are interested in theological views in favor of recognizing homosexuality as fully legitimate in the eyes of God, there are many places you can find that as well. But I have no interest in debating someone who is clearly just baiting me.

      I am saddened that comments that begin with the assertion of a poster’s Christianity almost invariably continue with judgment (despite Bible verses reserving that to the Lord), arrogance, and a lack of the compassion and grace that are the core teachings of the faith. I sometimes wonder if they are secretly the work of non-believers who are trying to make Christians look bad, but unfortunately, some Christians do that well enough without help.

  5. Regardless of which end of the spectrum you fall on regarding the portrayal of the gay lifestyle in media (notice I said spectrum not fence); you must admit that this is a sensitive and emotional subject. Especially when it involves media that we show to our children. To that end, I recommend that you show your readership the deference of being specific about the gay content in what is meant to be a children’s movie. That will allow us to decide what is best for our family, because we are armed with the facts and not rhetoric. I believe I speak for many when I say that, on this controversial topic in particular, spoilers are definitely welcome.

    1. Happy to provide the specifics, L. In the film, a teenage girl tries unsuccessfully to get a teenage boy to pay attention to her. At the end of the film, she asks him if he’d like to go to a movie sometime and he says yes, his boyfriend loves chick flicks. That’s it. It’s a small joke about her cluelessness.

  6. The reference to the gay guy made me sorry I watched this movie & I will tell everyone I know NOT TO watch it. How is it ok to have gays in a children’s movies? Disgusting!

    1. It’s rather odd that you found the brief mention by one character that he is gay “disgusting” and inappropriate in a movie filled with rotting corpses and zombies. I hope that movies like this will help to prevent future generations from having the same squeamishness and prejudice that your comment demonstrates.

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