ParaNorman – Film Review
Can you believe the last time I reviewed a kids’ movie was back in December?
Well, if ParaNorman is any indication, I haven’t been missing much.
TL;DR Impressive only in its visuals, ParaNorman is boring, slow, and mired by a pussy little main character who is impossible to care about. At least they tossed me some worthwhile voice talent. 2 out of 5 stars.
Dat Anna Kendrick.
The plot follows the titular Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), a kid in a small town who has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. This frustrates his parents and older, blonde sister Courtney (Kendrick). After his uncle (John Goodman), who possesses the same power, dies, Norman finds himself drawn into an age-old mystery involving a witch who once cursed the inhabitants of his town. Together with his sister, his fat friend, his fat friend’s brother, and his bully, Norman must use his abilities to quell the witch, save the town, and preach acceptance.
Also, zombies. But nice zombies.
My major problem with ParaNorman is simply Norman himself. Firstly, he’s voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee, who I am not a fan of. Let Me In sucked (though I guess you could probably pin some of that on Chloe Moretz. It really wasn’t a good combo). And I know you don’t have to see him in this, but he looks like an alien. Don’t try to deny it.
But apart from his actor, Norman is just sullen, mopey and melodramatic. He’s not Merida (she’s in a league of her own), but he’s not worth giving a crap about. He has barely any agency in what happens, merely reacting to plot advancements that take place without his input. Worst of all, he acts all martyred about it, too. The scene in the town hall where he and Courtney argue about him being a freak feels like its supposed to be an emotional climax, but it just comes across as “Wah no-one understands that I can talk to dead people. They need to check their normalcy privilege.”
I understand that Norman is just a kid, and that he can legit see dead people, but his lack of compassion for anyone else, even his sister who has been reasonably helpful, is the very opposite of endearing.
Why I hate this movie:
Then, of course, everyone comes around to Norman’s side anyway. Not because he does a particularly good job of convincing them, but because an evil witch cloud is destroying the town. You need to take charge of your own destiny, bro.
The real backstory of the witch turns out to be whingey and depressing. She was a little girl who had the same Sixth Sense abilities as Norman. She was found guilty of witchcraft and ended up becoming a powerful hell abomination out of fear. Ugh, like, I get it. But it’s so weak. Norman “defeats” her by telling her he understands and bonding with her over being different. Fuck, I think I would have preferred the Rise of the Guardians approach: have a villain with a sad backstory, but still have them be a badass motherfucker. Even if it meant them getting rough treatment from the heroes. At least there might have been some action.
The message about how it’s okay to be different consequently gets hammered home too hard. Norman even says at one point “I didn’t ask to be born this way.” Couple that with Mitch dropping the gay bomb at the end, and it’s pretty clear what the agenda is here. I know kids movies are often vehicles for presenting a message, but ParaNorman is so blunt about it.
The pacing is a bit dull. The first 3rd is mostly just Norman moping around and being an outcast. The middle 3rd is him progressing through a series of mildly dangerous situations to find the witch’s gravesite. The final act is him talking her down. And oddly, for a movie so concerned with death, none of the main characters face any mortal danger. Norman’s crazy uncle dies (which is what encourages Norman to go on his quest. Again, something he had no agency in), but that’s about it.
Oh, and Courtney ends up alone and rejected. Rude.
Reasons to watch:
I guess you could argue that ParaNorman is a kids movie that uses words instead of violence to solve problems. That’s a good message. It’s a shame it’s so fucking boring.
The standout feature of ParaNorman is undoubtedly the art style. Stop motion is beautiful. And not having Tim Burton involved with it is just a massive plus. I was constantly astounded with what they could do with it. I actually had to check up to make sure it was indeed stop motion, and not CGI done to look like it. Beautiful.
In contrast to Norman, the supporting characters are a lot of fun. Courtney is selfish, vapid and blonde. So she’s perfect. Mitch is a dipshit, dumbass jock. So as an non-stereotypical gay, that works. Alvin the bully (voiced by Christopher Minzt-Plasse) is selfish and cowardly, but ultimately redeemable. And Norman’s fat friend is endearingly cute. The scene where he phantom plays with his dead dog (which Norman can see) was about the sweetest thing ever.
Best line goes to him, too. Alvin threatens to punch him in the boobs. He protests and says they’re pectorals. Alvin proceeds to punch him. His reaction: “Ow! My boobs!” Classic.
Second best line goes to Norman. His uncle (in ghost form) is trying to get him to swear he’ll do his duty to keep the witch at bay:
Norman: “You mean like the F word?”
Courtney’s standing up for Norman in front of the town lynch mob was awesome. What a cool big sis.
The townspeople themselves prove rather effective and genre savvy. As soon as they catch wind of the zombies they form a mob and go only for headshots. Nice.
One of the random town ghosts is a mobster with cement shoes. I lol’d.
Oh, and Norman’s ringtone is the Halloween theme. Good taste.
It looks amazing, but it’s obvious in its message and not particularly exciting. So it’s Blake Lively: The Kids’ Movie. 2 out of 5 stars.