Saturday, April 13, 2013

2012 Family Movie Reviews, Part III: ParaNorman

This odd little film was made by Laika, Inc., which specializes in stop-motion animation and made a name for itself in 2009 with Coraline. I enjoyed both films quite a bit since I generally like strange movies. ParaNorman won't appeal to all viewers, but the people it was made for should enjoy it.

Norman, a young zombie-movie fanatic, lives in the town of Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts. Like Cole in The Sixth Sense (1999), Norman can see and talk to dead people. Since he makes no attempt to hide his gift and openly talks to ghosts while others are around, the boy has become an outcast and a frequent target of bullies.

As is the case in almost any movie based in a small Massachusetts town, Blithe Hollow's history includes witch trials. The most famous of these trials ended with a terrible curse being placed on the judge and jury that sentenced the witch to death. According to the legend, the seven were cursed to eventually rise from the dead and plague the town. No one takes the story seriously, of course, but it keeps the tourists coming. As the 300th Anniversary of the curse approaches, Norman finds himself taking part in a school play depicting the witch trial. During the dress rehearsal, Norman has a vision in which he's being pursued through the forest by Puritan townsfolk. During the play itself, he has an even more intense vision, which ends with Norman screaming "Everybody is going to die!" in front of a bemused audience.

As if the visions weren't enough, Norman is soon approached by his crazy uncle Prenderghast who tries to convince him he has to undertake a ritual at the witch's grave to prevent the curse from being fulfilled. It turns out that Norman's gift is hereditary and that the aging Prenderghast has been using his power to keep the witch's ghost asleep. On the eve of the witch's awakening, Norman's uncle dies without performing the ritual. In a hilarious scene, his ghost visits Norman in the school restroom and explains about the book he's been using to keep the witch at bay for years. As the sun begins to set, Norman sneaks out of his house and makes his way to the graves of the cursed townsfolk, assuming that the witch is also buried there, and begins to read the book. When Alvin, Norman's most dedicated antagonist, decides to give Norman a hard time, the ritual goes unfinished and the undead judge and jury emerge from their graves. As much as he likes movie zombies, Norman doesn't much care for the real thing and spends much of the rest of the movie being pursued by shambling Puritan corpses. With Prenderghast dead, only Norman's special ability can bring an end to the witch's curse.

While the above summary sounds pretty horrific for a family film, ParaNorman is actually pretty funny and the zombies are played mostly for laughs. Just as Frankenweenie spoofs classic horror films, this film spoofs more modern horror films made after Night of the Living Dead (1968). It's not a direct spoof, though, and ParaNorman actually makes fun of the fact that the townsfolk expect the victims of the witch's curse to behave like film zombies. The movie also takes a surprise turn a bit past the one hour mark that, while somewhat predictable, makes for an interesting story.

ParaNorman doesn't have as wide an appeal as Frankenweenie or Wreck-It Ralph and wasn't as popular with my family as those other two films. My oldest and youngest daughters enjoyed it quite a bit, but my middle daughter and Bride of Atomic Spud weren't particularly impressed. Also, while all three movies are rated PG, ParaNorman is a bit less family friendly. Wreck-It Ralph might as well have been G-rated while Frankenweenie deserved it's PG rating for some mild scares and the general theme of reanimating the dead. Some of the humor in ParaNorman is a little more crude and there's some relatively mild swearing. That's not to say that the film deserves a PG-13 rating (it's far cleaner than many of the PG movies that I grew up with), but parents with younger children might want to screen the movie first.

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