Norman, the protagonist of LAIKA’s stop-motion animated film ParaNorman has a unique gift: He can see and talk to ghosts. The movie may be filled with apparitions, spooky visions and a centuries-old curse that brings the dead to life, but it’s the grown-ups that are the most terrifying monsters — until they learn to look at things with an open mind. ParaNorman is a wonderfully weird family film that offers a fun and thought-provoking movie experience for parents and kids alike.
Poor 11-year-old Norman is ostracized by his peers — and his own family — for being a little (OK, a lot) different. Norman’s exasperated father just wants his son to be normal, uttering the phrase all children dread to hear, “Can’t you be like other kids your age?
Norman’s parents keep him at arm’s length, not quite sure what to make of the kid who says the ghost of Grandma is sitting on the couch. While his dad reacts in anger, his mother remains distant, offering only small comforts to the beleaguered kid. She tells him that his father is scared for him, not of him, but the two still can’t bring themselves to believe that he sees the undead.
Later in the film as Norman’s frightened mom and dad watch while their son faces off against zombies, I yelled at the screen, “What are you doing? Get up there! Stand with him!” (Note to any future zombies: I will greet you with a machete in the face if you get within 10 feet of my child.) But the shocked parents are frozen in place. The film’s greatest irony – and best family moment – is when Norman’s older sister, Courtney, stands by his side.
Courtney and Norman haven’t always seen eye to eye. In fact, they hate each other. Yet it’s when Courtney finally stops to listen to weird little Norman, that she finally believes him and sticks up for her little brother. Mom and dad soon follow suit. While it’s a shame they had to literally stare zombies in the face to accept their son for who he is, it’s touching to see the entire family finally come together.
With zombies, a focus on death and a macabre atmosphere, ParaNorman might be better suited for older children – and maybe a few daring youngsters. I recommend taking the PG rating to heart. Kids that age will also appreciate seeing a hero just like them, whose family doesn’t understand him, who learns to stand up for himself and embrace what makes him different.
Parents can benefit from the same themes. ParaNorman may seem like an odd source for a moral lesson, but it absolutely hit home with me. I’ll never tell my 4-year-old to be more “normal,” even when she asks me if she can sleep with her bath towel. Or when she’s older and she tells me something that I can’t even imagine now.
ParaNorman is available on DVD and Blu-ray.