The quickest way to describe Paranorman is a love letter to horror fans. While I never grew up with horror, I have always understood that fans of the genre see things a little differently than the rest of us. While I would never have decorated my childhood room with zombie memorabilia, like Norman does, looking back I wish I had been cool enough to do so. This isn’t to say that Paranorman is a horror film itself, and though it may be intense for some young children, it is sure to pack an emotional wallop for any viewer.
The strength of Paranorman lies in it’s exploration of fear and how we as humans choose to act in response to this powerful emotion. While many children’s films have a clear moral message at the center, and indeed Paranorman treads familiar ground in asking kids to accept those who are different, this film goes much further then you think. The central message focuses on anti-bullying, and Paranorman does almost as powerful a job illustrating the consequences of such behavior as the Lee Hirsch documentary Bully from last year. In this film, we see not only Norman and his delightfully cheerful friend Neil picked on by classmates, but a small child picked on by an entire community that has dire consequences.
Paranorman isn’t afraid of scaring kids (and adults!) but I don’t want to give the impression that this film is a downer, because Paranorman also delivers on adventure and perfectly crafted humor. The supporting cast is rounded out nicely, and each character has a distinct voice and visual look. I also love when films play with genre, and Paranorman subtly weaves numerous references to classic genre films while still maintaining its beautifully original story. The horror motifs may be front and center, but there are also musical cues from films like Jaws and Ghostbusters, as well as brief visuals lifted from Raiders of the Lost Ark and others.
Along with a well-crafted story, Paranorman is stop-motion animation at its best. I adore the art form, and Laika’s work here is on par or better than Coraline. I love how everything has a handmade look, and the level of detail in this film is astounding. Stop-motion animators are auteurs in the purist form, and all of that hard work and dedication is on full display in this inspiring cinematic experience, well worth seeing for the visuals alone.
Paranorman is a rare gem, and a top choice for the best animated film this year. If you can swing it, I highly recommend seeing it in 3D. For me, it will be a must-watch for many spooky Halloweens to come.
ParaNorman opens today in Philly-area theaters.