ParaNorman Movie Review
It's set in the sleepy town of Blithe Hollow, a tourist village cashing in on its grisly history of 18th century witch trials. This is where Norman (Smit-McPhee) lives, which is a bit annoying since he can speak to the ghosts which are lurking everywhere. His parents (Mann and Garlin) dismiss this as a childhood fantasy, while his boy-obsessed teen sister (Kendrick) just ignores him. At school, the class bully (Mintz-Plasse) makes his life miserable, and just when Norman thinks things can't get worse, his vagabond uncle (Goodman) tells him that he's the next in line to make sure the town's legendary witch doesn't enact her curse on the 300th anniversary of her death.
The filmmakers give Norman an obsession with cheesy horror movies, which allows them to have a lot of fun with the visual look of the whole film, referencing the classics through clever images and witty throwaway gags that fill the dialog. This in turn gives the voice cast a lot to work with, creating vivid characters we really care about. We're even surprised to find that, as we get to know the story's "baddies", it's human failings that have caused all of the trouble, not evil intent.
In other words, this is a remarkably complex film that addresses some big issues while it's entertaining us on a variety of levels. At the centre is a telling exploration of bullying, including the legacy left behind when we fail to understand people who we think are different. Even more important is the way the film tackles the culture of fear head-on, teaching us that we need to use our fear to bring out positive actions rather than lashing out at those we can't be bothered to understand. Which of course isn't a message just for kids.