26 February 2013


Twelve Things about ParaNorman

12. A few years ago, I would have loved this movie's opening scene. If you don't mind a very minor spoiler about the first five minutes (Just checking!), I can explain . . .

The story begins with a zombie chasing a terrified and screechy woman all over a house. But it's not really the story, because the zombie and the woman are in a movie. That is, a movie within the movie. These days, it seems that everything has to be meta. =P Now, I see exactly why this has to be so in the Scream franchise, for example, but it makes an awkward addition to ParaNorman. What is the point of making this movie about its own watching?

11. Norman Babcock is an ordinary boy with the extraordinary ability to see and to communicate with ghosts. Unfortunately, he is also one of those Special Snowflake Freaks who now have their own Shredded Cheddar tag. (The "Freaks" is ironic.) Which is not to say he is unlikeable--because he's actually quite sweet--but that a great weakness of modern storytelling is an inability to create any other kind of hero. Exhibit A is the other tagline for this movie:

"You don't become a hero by being normal."

Am I really still the only one who has a problem with this?

10. Now, there's no getting around the fact that Norman is weird. (The darling!!!) As if it weren't enough that he can talk to ghosts, he sleeps in a bedroom that doubles as a shrine to the undead.

It's like I gave birth to him or something . . .

My favourite bit is the gravestone alarm clock on his bedside table, which wakes him every morning with the mellifluous moan of a corpse creeping out of the ground. Seriously, I could live in this room. It's too bad that the majority of the movie isn't even in the same league as this inspired example of art.

9. Another really great moment is sequence in which Norman walks to school. Try to picture it with me now . . . Our sweet little hero pounding the pavement alone . . . Clearly alone but also talking to people who aren't there . . . He looks a little odd, yes, but he could be just another boy with a bunch of imaginary friends . . . until we get to see them, too.

It turns out that the neighbourhood is full of ghosts--and all of them, whether people or animals, all count Norman as a friend. It's a pretty cool vision, and yet nothing out of the ordinary. He could be Disney's Belle, walking to the bookstore as she insults her fellow villagers in song. (Norman is much nicer than that, though.)

Another great thing about this sequence is that it shows us how Norman's living neighbours see him. And we can't really blame them for for thinking the poor boy is nuts. LOL! This part lasts about a minute, but that's all the time it needs to set up a comical and charming social dynamic.

8. Now here's the catch, for which you have to pull out your Secret Decoder Ring:

***NONE of those wonderful ghost neighbours and pets ever show up in the movie again.***

Ponder that for a minute and then run your Secret Decoder Ring over the next message:

***The fact that they are so irrelevant to the story means that they are also irrelevant to Norman.***
**Take away the ghosts, and his ability to see them, and you wouldn't affect the main plot.**
*Which begs the question of why they are in the story at all . . .*

Answer: Because it's really that dang hard for us to conceive of a hero who is not special for being special. =P

7. We spend so much time establishing Norman's precious specialness that it takes about half an hour for the actual plot to kick in. It turns out that there is a curse on Norman's town! Centuries earlier, some townspeople executed a witch, and in revenge, she cast a spell on them that has barely been held at bay for 300 years. It doesn't take more than a simple ritual that any ex-opere-operato-minded individual could pull off, but this is the year in which it is flubbed and Norman must save the day.

6. Our hero is joined on his quest by his only friend, his older sister, the friend's older brother, and the class bully. And if they all remind you of the Scooby Gang, then you're quicker than I am!

Heck, they had a van in the movie, and I still didn't get it until another character dropped the "If it weren't for those meddling kids!" line. =P

It's a cute homage, but I would've preferred a nod in the direction of The Goonies. But perhaps the "Never say die" line is harder to work into a zombie movie than it may seem. LOL!

5. So let's talk about those zombies, shall we? I actually really love the twist in their story. We're so convinced that the undead are after us and are some sign that God is dead (God is undead?) that it pulls us out of our own snowflakey complacency to think that we might be a punishment for them, too. How can a maddening thirst for brains and all that rigor mortis and rotting be something pleasant? Poor zombies must be in hell! =(

4. The revelation about the witch was a really good moment as well. I don't think anyone would have seen that coming. What they did with it, however, was a total letdown. Basically, when you have ghosts, zombies, a powerful witch, and an adventure tailor-made for young protagonists, the moral of your story should probably transcend "Thou Shalt Not Bully."

3. At this point, the filmmakers may argue that the real moral is the line, "There's nothing wrong with being scared . . . so long as you don't let it change who you are." The problem is that it doesn't actually make sense.

You see, for thousands of years, in cultures all over the world, scary stories have been used to educate the young, to initiate the untried, and to civilise entire societies. Being scared is often supposed to change who we are. The right fears are like the right food--and the imagination, the mind and the soul need these to be truly healthy.

2. Indeed, it was a deficiency in fear that led to the most tasteless part of the movie: the fresh corpse. One character actually passes away onscreen, leaving Norman to pry something out of his cold, dead hands. It's played for laughs in a nasty way . . . but then again, who am I to complain?

What's the difference between my admiration of Norman's zombie-riffic bedroom and my disgust at the virtual dance he does with the dead man's body? No more than my fallible subjectivity. =P All the reanimated dead bodies in the former might as well be cartoon characters (Oh, haha . . .) for all the moral challenges they throw in my way, but the dead-as-a-doornail body involved in the latter hits straight home. This departed soul may have been estranged from his own family and ostracised by his neighbours, but he was still somebody's son . . . perhaps even somebody's friend once . . . and for all the years he knew about the witch's curse, he was the town's unsung hero. He deserves a little more dignity than being used for our entertainment. And although it damns me to admit this, so do all dead characters, including zombies.

1. Now for the sucker punch--both the movie's and my own. This serves as your spoiler warning.

Anyone who has ever watched a children's movie in which the two kid friends each have a teenage sibling, one of whom is male and the other of whom is female (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids . . . Mac and Me . . . to some extent, The Goonies . . . I could go on all day), expect that Norman's sister and his pal Neil's brother will get together by the end of the movie. So it's quite the guerilla attack when, in one of the final scenes, Courtney finally asks Mitch out on a date--and he reveals that he has a boyfriend.

Much online outrage has been spilled over this ideological landmine--so much, in fact, that everybody seems to have missed the fact that it was a mere smokescreen for the real red flag issue. So that you see it more clearly, let me write the spoiler sentence again, changing only one word: ". . . in one of the final scenes, Courtney finally asks Mitch out on a date--and he reveals that he has a girlfriend." THERE! See the difference now? The girl asks the boy out!!!

Yes, she has to because he's really not interested . . . and he's really not interested because he prefers another sort of date . . . but this twist is not just to explain it, but also to keep it from being a big deal. Say what you like about sexual equality, but I don't think I exaggerate when I say that a world in which the men dump the wooing on the women is a world that is doomed.

This serves as your spoiler warning for societal collapse. Have a nice day!

Image Sources: a) ParaNorman poster, b) Norman's bedroom, c) ParaNorman cast


love the girls said...

"a world in which the men dump the wooing on the women is a world that is doomed."

The difference is not so much the wooing as the aggressiveness.

Women no longer have to subtly coerce the guy to look their way.

Women's fine art of tongue and bodily motion have been abandoned much the same as the other fine arts have been abandoned.

love the girls said...

Per Special Snowflake Freaks.

My made a similar comment in regard to the charter Waldorf school we send several of our children to that they're not allowed heroes they can emulate, i.e. the saints, but are instead given heroes such as Thor.

Enbrethiliel said...


I think Courtney's body language is fine, if a bit artless. The problem is that Mitch is about as sensitive as the zombies when it comes to picking up on these signals. She could have kissed him full on the mouth and it probably wouldn't have occurred to him that she was romantically interested in him.

I'm working on a reply to your latest e-mail to me, LTG, in which I (struggle to) explain that royals aren't actually special snowflakes. By that same reasoning, neither are the gods of mythology. A special snowflake is a completely unremarkable person for whom the rules can be bent just because. And my problem is not with the characters per se, but with those who produce or consume those stories. I should probably get back to that e-mail and see if my thoughts are any clearer . . .

love the girls said...

I suppose the issue is heroic virtue, and as such, you're correct, the royals can be emulated, but Thor cannot be emulated according to heroic virtue.

Enbrethiliel said...


Norman's ability to talk to the dead certainly can't be emulated, but my critique of characters like him is not that they are poor role models but that they are poor reflections of the audience. I really think that a great chunk of modern audiences are attracted to "special snowflakes" because we believe we are special, too. And that's a problem inasmuch as we aren't.