Seeing Things Differently


Release Date: August 17, 2012
Rating: PG (for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language)
Genre: Animation/Adventure/Comedy
Run Time: 93 min.
Directors: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Voices: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Tempestt Bledsoe, Jodelle Ferland

Dark and imaginative, ParaNorman is a thematically–tight movie. Pretty much every strand in the film relates back, in one way or another, to the central theme of being a misfit in a judgmental, self-involved world. The story of a boy who can see and hear ghosts, ParaNorman has a huge heart and an impressive eye for character.

Anybody who’s ever experienced feeling like a weirdo or an outcast will immediately identify with this sweet tale.

ParaNorman is a gentle, good-natured movie, with a good dose of darkness, the supernatural, and a slight touch of silliness thrown in for good measure.

Minor spoilers ahead…

ParaNorman is about a gentle, misunderstood kid who can interact with ghosts, including the ghost of his grandmother who hangs out on the sofa in his living room. In fact, for the boy who’s admittedly obsessed with zombies and misunderstood by, well, everyone including his own parents, the dearly departed are sure a whole lot friendlier than his living, breathing peers. And since the souls aimlessly floating around Norman’s hometown can’t communicate with anyone but him, his chats with the dead are basically the only time he feels remotely close to popular.

Trouble is, when Norman interacts with his paranormal peers, it just looks to others like he’s talking to himself, which means he’s a perfect target for teasing and bullying.  And that’s before his crazy uncle turns up and starts telling him about his duty to prevent a zombie invasion. Soon enough, Norman is forced to step up and save his town from a supernatural nightmare — and the unsympathetic, conformist townspeople are one of the main obstacles in his path.

We’ve seen this sort of story tons of times before — in which the weirdo outsider is the one who turns out to be the only one able to save the day, mainly because of the awesome power that comes from seeing things differently. The great strength of ParaNorman is the way it makes you feel Norman’s oppression without ever going too far or becoming too brutal or intense. ParaNorman does a great job of taking the well-worn theme of the outsider-hero and breathing new life into it, both by making Norman a pretty unique, lovable character and by introducing a lot of subplots and sidelines that intersect with the main story in a way that adds many colorful layers.

While Norman and a chubby kindred spirit named Neil are simply resigned to the fact that people will always treat them badly because they are different, Aggie—the witchy villain—is out for revenge on those who did her wrong. As it turns out, Aggie was subjected to some serious verbal barbs—and more—back in the 18th century. Branded a witch and eventually set on fire by a group of fearful people who didn’t understand her and her refusal to conform, she re-emerges from the dead feeling just as raw, confused and blazing mad as ever. Determined to set things right, she unleashes an anger-fueled curse that ensures those who hurt her will finally understand what it’s like to be labeled a “freak.” In a clever plot twist, she transforms her judges and accusers into Norman’s favorite creatures: zombies.

The first two thirds of the movie feel like a solidly likable coming-of-age comedy—and then in the final third it really starts to feel more profound and emotional. The ending is powerful and makes everything that comes before it seem a lot cooler and more amazing than it seemed at the time. A good ending can really redeem and reshape a story, and that’s very much the case here — everything else is solid, but the ending is great.

ParaNorman is a seriously sweet movie, with a lot of compassion for all its characters, even the annoying ones. As a take on the ostracized hero, this film feels downright powerful at times. And it’s a great film to take your friends (and your kids) to, because it’s such a great celebration of the astounding power of weirdos.

From the movie trailer: You don’t become a hero by being normal.

So, what are you? Normal? or A hero?

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