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Film Review: ParaNorman

ParaNormanThere seems to be a glut of Halloween films for kids this year what with Hotel Transylvania, Frankenweenie and ParaNorman all fighting for attention. However, despite ParaNorman not having the bigger names attached to it, as with the other films, it has absolutely no reason whatsoever to be afraid of the competition.

Norman is just like any other kid. Except for the fact he can see and talk to dead people, Sixth Sense style. He sees Grandma sat on the sofa, a parachutist impaled in a tree, even fresh roadkill; the only problem is everyone else thinks he’s crazy and treats him as such, including his family. When his old, maniacal uncle tells him that he must stop a witch’s curse from destroying the town, Norman, along with his only friend and fellow bully victim Neil, set off to try and save their town of Blithe Hollow. However, when the undead get brought back to life, things take a turn for the worse and Norman must use his special gift to save the day.

At the heart of ParaNorman is an old-fashioned fairy tale ghost story, something which is rare nowadays. It’s nice to see a more traditional form of storytelling still exists. Adult horror films tend to go more grizzly and gore focused, whilst children’s horror films of this ilk are pretty scarce altogether, and those that are around tend to focus on the laughs more than the scares. ParaNorman manages to balance the two equally and there are plenty of moments that will make children  cower behind their popcorn. It gets pretty tense at times, and whilst adults aren’t likely to be freaked out at all, children, especially the younger ones, just might be. There is still enough there for adults too, as is often the case with these sort of films. There are jokes and references that will go over most children’s heads but will have adults cracking a wry smile or even the odd chuckle.

Norman, Neil, Mitch, Courtney, Alvin, Zombie

Underneath everything in ParaNorman are central themes of tolerance, acceptance and understanding. These are prevalent throughout and can be applied to pretty much every character in the film, giving the story a central theme aside from the main plotlines. Whilst they may feel a little hammered home to (most) adults, they are important lessons for children, so if just a little rubs off on them then it’s a job well done. The film also confronts children with the concept of death and does so from the outset. Obviously the theme of ghosts and the afterlife is one that’s up for discussion, but it doesn’t shy away from presenting the fact that people, and not just old people, die. Again, these are important lessons for children, particularly the slightly younger ones who perhaps aren’t as yet aware. However, for those parents who feel that this maybe a little too deep for a kids’ film, don’t worry. It’s all presented sensitively and with enough lightheartedness not to get in the way of the fun of the film.

Some of the characters do verge on cliche at times, what with the bullied fat kid, the preppy blonde, the non-accepting dad, etc, but this is only really likely to grate with adults; it’s unlikely children will be too bothered with this, and even though the character profiles are a little weary, they are portrayed very well indeed. In fact, it’s Norman himself who comes off worst and is one of the least interesting characters of all. There are also a number of plot holes that, again, will likely go over the heads of younger viewers but adults may pick up on. These are minor points, however, and do not detract from the overall enjoyment of the film.

ParaNorman is from the team at LAIKA responsible for the dark fairy tale Coraline and they have done an equally fantastic job with the stop motion animation. It is flawless from start to finish and the work that has gone in to ensure that is nothing less than staggering. It is a more traditional art style than the Tim Burton-esque Coraline but it still retains some of the German Expressionism-inspired features that give it a spooky, warped atmosphere. The film’s climax is an absolutely stunning mix of stop motion animation and CGI that really tops off an exemplary showing throughout.

ParaNorman is the perfect opportunity for parents to introduce their children to the world of horror films if they so desire, as it offers enough atmosphere and tension for them to find scary but enough comedy to keep it lighthearted throughout. Adults will find plenty of jokes and horror film references to enjoy, and if they can ignore the slightly irritating plot holes and cliched characters, they may enjoy it just as much as their younger counterparts.

Chris Thomson

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