Directed by Chris Butler & Sam Fell
For the purpose of making concise and accessible the primary thematic intentions of darkly comic family movie ParaNorman, the motivations for bullying are reduced to that of fear or the traditional dread of difference. While definitely a strong signifier and commonality amongst those actively dismissive of those outside of their existing and, evidently, fragile social lexicon, the extensive array of psychological rationale for harassing, subjugating or externally diminishing another human being has familial and social considerations, as well as personal morality, religious influences and ego repression. But, being a kid's movie, trying to entertain and clearly define a social issue for those in their formative years, the paralleling of fear of difference with the overall horror aesthetic and style is, in its own away, an ideal match. This is made clear when the titular Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a teen outsider mocked and harassed by his classmates, and even his family, for claiming to communicate with ghosts, discusses his fear with his dead grandmother and is told, "It's okay to be afraid; it's how you handle your fear that matters." As Norman's reality starts to fray in social situations, leading to his public breakdown at a school play, seeing ghostly apparitions and talking trees in place of his classmates, his subtle difference is exacerbated, leading to increased alienation from the status quo. Similarly marginalized friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) stays by his side, understanding the wrath of bullying as an overweight kid, but everyone else continues to force him to the periphery, writing "freak" on his locker and responding with shock when forced into contact with him. Rather than tackle how this affects Norman's emotional state and ability to trust peers and develop healthy relationships, ParaNorman forces its protagonist into terrifying situations where he has to confront his fears, whether they involve manipulating his uncle's (John Goodman) dead body, engaging pilgrim zombies or heading off into the woods to face a wrathful ghost, burned as a witch years earlier. In responding to his fear productively, discussing motivations with the monsters that everyone else literally chases with torches and pitchforks, Norman demonstrates that open-mindedness and understanding resolve potential conflict better than violence. As for the psychology of those perpetually bullied, the central villain of the film is a witch so tormented and unwilling to trust those around her that she plans to kill everyone. While slightly glib in its assertions and application of its important and ultimately emotional thematic material, the astute blend of horror genre tropes is in itself quite clever. Even the consistent use of referential nods and self-conscious mockery help keep the comic aspect of the film running smoothly, which is important when presenting a children's film that features mortality. Unfortunately, there is an abundance of jokes involving butt licking, ghosts in toilets and other poo-related humour that denigrate the material, catering to the lowest common denominator. But it's easy to overlook the occasional misguided hiccup when the blend of stop-motion and practical animation is so creatively detailed and complex, using a visual trajectory of unevenness to reiterate the central theme of difference and the dread thereof. Included with the Blu-Ray is an abundance of supplements about the conceptual stages and sequences scrapped early on for sheer indulgence, in addition to cast and animation interviews, which demonstrate that the many people working on this movie can relate to the topic, themselves being outsiders. It gives an overall impression of a labour of love, making this title that much more meaningful.
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