ParaNorman, by the makers of Coraline
The makers of Coraline once again create an odd little world in hyper-real animation. This time the main character is Norman, a sad-faced boy who is bullied and troubled because he is different – he sees and talks to dead people. He lives in a town which celebrates its gruesome past of witchcraft persecution as a tourist attraction with witch-based kitsch, and where everyone seems as narrow-minded as they were in the good old days of Puritan trials and executions.
Although there is nothing new in the elements here – ghosts, zombies and witches – it is portrayed in a way which could be genuinely unsettling for young or sensitive children; there is plenty of nightmare fodder. Cartoons and animated films have always delighted in raising screams from the early days of Disney where Snow White runs through the forest which turns on her. Continuing in that tradition, there is an ever-present fear of zombies. So far, so Scooby Doo, but ParaNorman is a little more occult than the usual children’s fare, and has a sense (as in Coraline) that the very world might rupture.
The film centres quite a bit on the undead and the recently dead, including a revolting or hilarious scene with a corpse, depending on your point of view. The ghosts are benign, hanging around with unfinished business, or in Norman’s grandmother’s case, just to look out for him (and anyway, she says, there is no cable TV in paradise). Norman must placate a lingering witch’s curse from 300 years before or else the whole town will be eaten by zombies, or something – it’s a little unclear, except that the threat is certainly fearful.
Visually, the 3D stop-motion animation creates an enticing surreal atmosphere with awesome detail. All the grown-ups in the film, along with the undead, are ugly and stupid. People bully because they are afraid – that’s the message said over and over whether it is Norman’s classmates laughing at him, the townsfolk attacking zombies now, or hanging witches then. That’s just human nature, says the film, and as soon as they understand that they are afraid, they stop bullying.
Animations have raised their game in recent years with expectations of humour for the parents as well as the kids, and ParaNorman doesn’t disappoint, with plenty of jokes, slapstick and apt references to horror classics. It can be a little slow and uneven at times, but there is resolution by the end. It’s hard to know exactly who the film is aimed at – probably anyone who is 11-and-a-quarter-and-a-bit, but others will enjoy the ghoulish ride too.
ParaNorman is due for release in UK cinemas on 14th September, rating PG.
Watch the trailer for ParaNorman here: