ParaNorman is one of those deliciously grotesque animated films that appears to be an action adventure but actually confronts some pretty serious issues. Laika Entertainment has followed up Coraline with another film about family dysfunction, this time with zombies and witches rather than a giant spider and an alternate reality.
Young Norman Babcock suffers the bullies and family strife that you expect from a small-town America story. He can see and speak to the dead, and is therefore considered a lying freak by the witch-obsessed town of Blithe Hollow and by his family. His quest to stop the witch's curse and an undead apocalypse forces him to face his fears and forge new friendships along the way. So far so obvious.
But this is not the humans v supernatural story you probably think it is. ParaNorman is all about the assumptions we make about people and about our history that turn out to be completely wrong. The living assume that the zombies are out to eat their brains, the town assumes that the history of the witch trial is accurate, even Norman assumes that the way to stop the curse is the defeat the evil witch - everyone has to change the way they think in order to survive.
There's so much to love about this film, from the gorgeous animation style to the snappy (and occasionally inappropriate) dialogue. And the design of Blithe Hollow itself - so many details to look at whenever the town square is featured.
The film has lots of subtle spooky references to films, here are the ones I spotted:
- Blithe Hollow might be a reference to the town of the Headless Horseman, Sleepy Hollow
- The kids drive around in a van that looks a bit like The Mystery Machine and the police woman delivers a classic Scooby Doo line
- The zombies walk up the stairs in a shadowy Nosferatu style
- Norman's mobile ring tone is the theme from Halloween
- Norman's friend Neil wears a hockey mask that screams Friday 13th
- The townsfolk go completely pitch fork Frankenstein style crazy at the court house
ParaNorman is a triple threat treat - it makes you laugh, eeeew and cry.
And in case you were wondering, here's how you speak zombie.