Our 2nd submission focusing on an animated feature comes to us courtesy of Kieran Fisher of That’s Not Current. For his piece, Kieran take a look at 2012’s ParaNorman, a film that is quickly becoming one of my own Halloween staples.
Besides being one for the whole family, ParaNorman manages to pay tribute to the Halloween season, as well as the history of horror cinema, while also delivering a timeless message. Be true to yourself. Love what you love, and love yourself for loving those things.
Another thing that I really liked about this piece is that besides the movie which is its main focus, Kieran also includes quite a few other titles that also capture the Halloween season, but are still safe for those younger family members. Ya know, the ones that the holiday is actually for.
There’s always been something inherently spooky about stop motion animation, which is why some of the best movies to watch on Halloween are family horror and fantasy fare. The Nightmare Before Christmas, released in 1993, still enjoys annual rotation on television 23 years later during the autumn season. In a similar vein, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005) and Frankenweenie (2012) both evoke the haunted spirit of the holiday, while Henry Sellick’s Coraline (2009), is the type of eerie fairytale which inspires children’s imaginations to run wild through the darker corridors of storytelling. But none of these movies are quite as special as 2012’s ParaNorman, which is one of the best animated movies of all time in this writer’s humble opinion.
ParaNorman is the second film from animation studio Laika, following the aforementioned Coraline. In recent years the studio has ventured away from horror-themed fare in a bid to branch out, and while you could argue that the company was at its apex with its haunted tales, I wouldn’t describe any of their output until now as anything less than stellar. They have a good batting average, but ParaNorman is a home run.
Taking place in the haunted town of Blithe Hollow, ParaNorman tells the story of Norman Babcock (Kodi-Smith McPhee), a young outsider with the ability to speak with the dead. His only friend is another outcast, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), and together they must protect their town from an ancient curse that’s causing the dead to rise from their graves, cast by a vengeful witch with a grudge against the townsfolk which spans generations.
Despite its family friendly nature, ParaNorman is a movie steeped in love for the horror genre, which is why it makes for a perfect gateway film for younger audiences, and what better time to discover horror for the first time than the Halloween season? The town name, for instance, is taken from two other spook tales: Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Noel Coward’s Blithe Coward. It’s also full of nods to classic horror movies appropriate for the season, like Night of the Living Dead (1968), Suspiria (1977), Halloween (1978), and The Frighteners (1996). Moreover, it’s the type of kid’s adventure which straddles the line between fun and scary, much like The Goonies (1985), Ghostbusters (1983), Scooby Doo cartoons and Goosebumps stories – all of which were inspirations for creators Sam Fell and Chris Butler when they were developing the film. In terms of influences, it’s a perfect concoction; but it’s not a pastiche by any means.
The real beauty of ParaNorman doesn’t lie in homages or appreciation for the horror genre. What makes this film so special is its sense of adventure, along with its courage to confront its audience – both young and old – with thought provoking themes which are relevant to the world in which we live in today. The film addresses topics kids can relate to such as bullying and it doesn’t shy away from exploring death with the weighty emotion that comes with it. However, it’s a film about embracing individuality, no matter how out of place you might come across among your peers. It’s about accepting others, and encouraging forgiveness. Furthermore, it allows children to confront their fears in a safe environment; ghoulish or closer to home.
Upon release, ParaNorman caused controversy over the revelation that the character Mitch (Casey Affleck), a popular high school jock, was gay. This marked the first time an openly gay character was featured in a mainstream animated family movie. As such, the film was both commended and criticised for the reveal; the inclusion of an openly gay character supports the theme of tolerance and acceptance which permeates throughout, but many were upset as they felt kids shouldn’t be exposed to homosexuality until they’re older. But that typifies what makes ParaNorman so special: it’s inclusive and non-judgemental of all orientations.
ParaNorman is a marvel of a film, one which excels on multiple levels. It’s an adventure tale with creepy elements that will both entertain younger audiences and petrify them just the right amount; it’s a morale tale with a positive message and an emotional heart; it’s a loving homage to the horror movies we all adore; and it’s perfect seasonal viewing for Halloween time, steeped in autumnal atmosphere and traditional spooky folktales. All in all, a true masterpiece of its kind and essential viewing for any family this time of year.