I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from the new animated film ParaNorman. As much as I love animated films, ParaNorman‘s trailer had never really captured my imagination. (Or, at the very least, it hadn’t captured my imagination in the way that the trailers for Brave and Wreck-It Ralph did.) For the most part, the only reason that ParaNorman was even on my radar was because it was advertised as being the latest film from the creators of Coraline and the only reason that Jeff and I ended up seeing this film last Friday instead of The Expendables 2 was because I had a slight headache and didn’t want to have to spend two hours listening to men yelling, guns firing, and bombs exploding.
In other words, I saw ParaNorman with low-to-no expectations and sometimes, that’s the perfect way to go to the movies because I absolutely loved ParaNorman.
ParaNorman tells the story of Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a shy boy who has the ability to talk to the dead. This talent comes in handy because Norman happens to live in the haunted New England town of Blithe Hollow.
I fell in love with ParaNorman during the opening credits, in which we watch as Norman talks to the spirts of everyone from an unfortunte aviator to a squished dog, all the while simply trying to get to school on time. In this short, wonderfully animated sequence, we learn everything that we need to know about Norman and the town of Blithe Hollow. We learn that Norman is shy, he’s lonely, and he’s also one of the few people in the world nice enough to actually be polite to a pushy ghost demanding his attention. As for the town of Blithe Hollow, it’s a memorably ugly creation, full of ominous buildings that seem to have sprung straight from a nightmare of German Expressionism.
Blithe Hollow, we soon learn, is a town that’s haunted by a lot more than just a few restless spirits. The town was founded by Puritans who, as the film begins, are mostly remembered for their witch hunts. Centuries ago, the town founders burned a witch at the stake and that witch cursed the town. While it wouldn’t be right for me to give away too many details of the plot, it turns out that the witch’s curse is very much real and, as a result of a several complications and mistakes on the part of both Norman and the citizens of Blithe Hollow, the town is soon overrun by zombies.
In a twist that would make George Romero proud, the citizens of Blithe Hollow soon prove themselves to be a hundred times more monsterous and dangerous than the film’s actual monsters. However, as only Norman can actually talk to the dead, he soon discovers that there’s more to the “zombie rampage” then meets the eye. Soon, it becomes apparent that Norman’s the only one who can give the witch what she wants and save Blithe Hollow from the sins of the past.
Not surprisingly, there were a lot of children at the showing that Jeff and I attended and ParaNorman had enough silly moments to keep them entertained. They seemed to enjoy the comedic relief provided by Norman’s fat and loyal friend Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi). That said, ParaNorman isn’t really a film for children. It starts out slow and wisely devotes a good amount of time to establishing the oppressive atmosphere of Blithe Hollow. The film’s resolution comes not with the spectacle that we’ve been conditioned to expect from animated films but instead, the movie ends on a rather subdued, almost mournful note. ParaNorman‘s humor is combined with a very real sense of melancholy and loss. This is a film that can be enjoyed by kids but only truly understood by adults.
(If Dellamorte Dellamore is ever remade as an animated film, I expect the end result will look a lot like ParaNorman.)
Don’t get me wrong, ParaNorman is a funny film that’s full of clever details and smart vocal performances. Along with Smit-McPhee and Albrizzi, the voice cast includes Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Jeff Garlin, and Leslie Mann. All of them deliver their lines with just the right combination of sincerity and melodrama. However, the film is really stolen by Jodelle Ferland, who voices the condemned witch and who brought me to very real tears towards the end of the movie.
ParaNorman is hardly a perfect film but’s a nicely ambitious one and it has a good message about tolerance. I wasn’t expecting much from it and I ended up adoring it. Perhaps I should lower my expectations more often.