Paranorman (2012) D: Chris Butler, Sam Fell S: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Casey Affleck, Tucker Albrizzi, John Goodman
Barely making a blip on the radar last year was Paranorman, an animated film whose existence was as overlooked as the themes it aims to champion. Since contemporary media’s obsession with the “Born This Way” mantra flourished, the subjects of diversity and embracing once quirks have become commonplace. The way these themes are used as cogs in the media marketing machine have drastically diluted them and the noble goals they push forth into mere ploys. Paranorman aims to rectify this wrong by pulling the themes away from the fad and bringing back the heart it lost.
It’s about Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a queer 11-year-old with the innate ability to talk to the dead. The only problem, though, is that everybody else thinks he’s either being weird or making it up. This makes him a target for bullying at school and the black sheep of the family. His biggest detractor is his own dad, who constantly scolds him for not trying to fit in. Despite being misunderstood, Norman finds solace in being alone or hanging out with his newfound friend, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi). Things get a little crazy once his estranged and equally gifted uncle (John Goodman) shows up and leaves him a mission that will save their town from a witch’s curse.
The film treats Norman’s ability as coincidental. It just happens that he’s one of the few who has it. Paranorman doesn’t pander to diversity. It doesn’t go to severe lengths to celebrate difference. What it does promote is understanding, a call to accept what can’t be understood immediately. Its story is not really about Norman, but about the people around him and how they act toward those who are different.
The film doesn’t get crushed by the weight of its intention. Smartly written, the story plays like a classic fairy tale made for the new generation. There is magic, heroes and heroines, and a fantastic denouement that leads to a satisfying ending. Produced by Laika Entertainment, the same studio responsible for 2009’s Coraline, the animation and character designs are a bit more off-kilter. Though not as polished as Pixar, this welcome difference suits the story well and further drives the point that, sometimes, it’s the peculiarities that make something just right.
No. No, I’m not leaving. Just listen to me! Uhh… Once upon a time, long ago, there was a little girl. A - a little girl who was different… Who was different from the other people in her village. She could see and - and do things that no one could understand! And that made them scared of her! She turned away from everyone and became sad and lonely, and had no one to turn to! The more she turned away from people, the more scared they were of her. And they did something terrible! They became so scared that they took her away and they killed her! And even - and even though she was dead, something in her came back! And this part of her, wouldn’t go away even after three hundred years! And the longer it stayed, the less there was of the little girl.
“Sometimes when people get scared, they say and do terrible things. I think you got so scared that you forgot who you are. But I don’t think you’re a witch, not really. I think you’re just a little kid with a really special gift who only ever wanted people to understand her. So we’re not all that different at all.” - ParaNorman (2012)