Review: The exile of ParaNorman

ParaNorman is surprisingly sophisticated, considering its medium and subject matter.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into ParaNorman. It’s been marketed mostly as a family film, which means, I guess lots of childish things that are fun for kids usually. I certainly wasn’t expecting a thoughtful genre bender.

The film is about Norman, a young man who sees, and can speak with Ghosts. Apparently, this kind of thing happens once a generation in this small town.

When Norman’s ostracized uncle falls ill, he makes it his final act to attempt to pass the secrets on to his nephew, but the boy is left with an incomplete picture, and when it comes time to stop a witch from the town’s bloody past from rising up for her annual attempt to terrorize the town, Norman doesn’t quite know what to do.

As such, Norman is ultimately  forced to forge his own path as he discovers the secrets of his town’s history and the burden of his ancestors.

Also: There are some shambling undead, and while the trailers make it seem like this is the focus of the film, it becomes clear quickly that while the undead are integral to the plot, it is not about a hero rising up against monsters. It’s about a small, shy, boy crafting a destiny and stopping an ancient, misunderstood force of pure anger.

The way the film subverts the zombie apocalypse tropes and themes is very clever, and blending that with a very character driven story creates a surprisingly touching tale. The characters are relatable and compelling, especially for stop motion puppets, and all are well performed, despite only one marquee name in the credits (John Goodman plays the crazy uncle).

Most impressive is the way the film blends the dark, macabre humor of a little boy dealing so closely with death and the goofy humor of a comedy adventure flick. One finds themselves frequently cringing and chuckling simultaneously, as the film uses oddball and slapstick sequences to sneak past the sometimes difficult themes, but it never feels like a cheap escape. It’s always a natural part of the world of this story.

ParaNorman has a wide demographic appeal, so there are no worries bringing kids along, but as sophisticated comedy with lots of emotional moments and a great rousing ending, this is not one to miss, even if you don’t have kids to bring with you.

ParaNorman is in theaters now.