The family film genre is more often than not a genre that I skip because of movies like Alvin & the Chipmunks, Garfield, Smurfs, etc. Those films do nothing but provide really vacant (and terrible) entertainment. Throw in tons of popular culture references, make your cute characters dance and sing, provide no message to your audience and add some farts for comedic effect; that is what seems to be the formula for today’s kid-friendly entertainment. On top of that, the humor in those films seem to often be geared towards the older crowd but done in a way that seems like it’s kid-safe. The family film genre needs a good shake-up and to re-invigorate itself. I think ParaNorman is a great example of what family-friendly entertainment should be.
The thing I enjoyed most about ParaNorman is that it is actually representative of a great horror story. I love horror for its occassional campier qualities and for the potential of getting creeped out (I like to be scared by a movie) but horror really works for me when it is actually representative of something about us as people. ParaNorman, on the surface, may be about a young kid who has to stop a witch’s curse but what it’s really about is the pain of being alone and of being outcast by people. It shows two viewpoints of this, with the witch in the story taking that pain and loneliness and amplifying it to a point where she feels she must make everyone else feel the way she does. With Norman, it’s painful to him and he internalizes it but doesn’t make others feel the same as he realizes that everyone, no matter the situation, has their own emotional pains they are dealing with and that we should help each other deal with these things. I was kind of blown away that the film was sending a message to kids that we all, at one time or another, will feel outcast and alone and that if you have those feelings, it may seem that they isolate you, but you’re really not alone. There is always someone out there that will understand how you feel and that if you see someone suffering, help them.
Another thing I enjoyed is that ParaNorman isn’t afraid to be dark. It’s never outright scary, though I’m an adult, so it may be moreso for some kids. It has some pretty great horror atmosphere and consists of shot compositions that enhance the darker atmosphere of the film. However, it tosses in a lot of comedy to alleviate some of the darker aspects of the film. It’s horror for kids and I’m all for that. In fact, I wish there was more horror for kids. Like Norman, I grew up with a love of the macabre and at times felt misunderstood just because I enjoyed horror (R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark rocked my childhood). I think it was thought that if I liked horror stories so young that I was going to turn out to be disturbed or something which is mirrored in ParaNorman with the relationship between Norman and his father, something I certainly related to. Having an interest in horror never felt weird to me, it was just a matter of taste. I’d like to see more horror family fare so that the kids that are interested in it have something to enjoy.
The message of ParaNorman and the horror aesthetic really solidified my appreciation for the film. There is probably a lot more that I could talk about but I’m in a bit of a time crunch at the moment and I wanted to get something up about the movie. So go see ParaNorman if you haven’t done so already. You’ll see some really awesome opening credits, great stop-motion animation and a story worthy of your time. And you’ll laugh. And there are zombies.
by Ben McBride