With Laika releasing their fifth film Missing Link this week, we’re taking a look at each of their previous films. Today we take a look at their second feature length film, ParaNorman, directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler.
After the success of Coraline, the stop motion studio Laika followed the dark fantasy comedy with a lighthearted horror comedy called ParaNorman. Their sophomore effort centered around a young boy named Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who can see and speak with dead people. Norman’s life is turned upside down when he learns that he must help prevent a 300-year-old witch’s curse that would raise the dead. What follows is a fun comedy about acceptance and the importance of not giving in to fear and prejudices.
ParaNorman feels right at home with films like Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride: something that is a bit spooky but is really a fun family film. There are a few scares at the start of the film, but as the story continues, it begins to lean less on the more frightening elements and more on the true story. Norman has always been bullied for saying that he can see ghosts, with his best friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) being the only person who ever believes him. Even his own parents, Perry and Sandra (Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann), and sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), don’t believe in his abilities and beg him to “act normal.”
At one point his mother explains that his father’s words and actions come from a place of fear and that while they love their son, they’re worried about how others will treat him. It’s implied that they think it would be better for Norman to hide his true self instead of sharing his truth with the world. But for a young kid who is constantly bombarded by ghosts wanting to speak with someone (and who enjoys the experience), it’s not easy. This is Norman’s life; it’s his truth, and he has no shame in it. It’s an important part of who he is, and it also helps him connect with his dead grandma (Elaine Stritch) who refuses to cross over to the afterlife because she promised to watch over Norman.
The film continues this tale of fighting prejudice and fear as the details of the witch’s curse are revealed. The best horror films take big concepts and use the filter of a monster or some horrific event to show how we cope with or fight certain things in this world. ParaNorman is no different. After the dead rise, the film takes a quick turn to show that the true horrors in life aren’t the paranormal but are our fellow man — and every bit of it is earned. The same people who laugh and ridicule Norman at the start of the film are the same people that are causing problems as the curse takes over the town.
There are plenty of smart and interesting twists within the film that are perfectly earned and make sense given the subject matter of the story. In a way it’s like a stop motion, family friendly Shaun of the Dead — a horror-comedy film about zombies that has nods to previous horror classics, while also delivering a solid original tale that gives a good message. It’s the type of film that every family should watch together and maybe talk about with their kids. Laika could have been a one-hit wonder after Coraline, but ParaNorman proves that this studio knows what they’re doing. They may not get as much attention as Pixar, but the films they’re creating are on par with the billion dollar computer animation studio. And that’s something to be proud of.
ParaNorman is currently available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital format.