Review by Amber
Norman Babcock is just like any normal 11-year-old misfit, except that he can speak to the dead. Unfortunately no one else can see or hear the many ghosts who inhabit the small town of Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts, so people think he’s just weird—and perhaps crazy. But when a centuries-old witch’s curse brings zombies to town, Norman’s unique and strange ability comes in handy.
When we meet Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), no one gets him. His mother (Leslie Mann) is patient and tolerant, but his father (Jeff Garlin) is frustrated and entirely unsympathetic towards him, and his sister (Anna Kendrick) is thoroughly annoyed and a little appalled (granted, this is not an unusual attitude for an elder sister to have towards her kid brother). Most of his schoolmates avoid him—when he walks through the school yard it looks like the parting of the Red Sea—and the rest ridicule and bully him. Norman has learned to prefer solitude—but then Neil comes along. Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) is bullied too, and unhesitatingly and unashamedly lists several reasons why. But unlike Norman, Neil doesn’t care what people say about him. Neil sees a kindred misfit spirit in Norman, and wants to be his friend. Norman is reluctant: “I like to be alone.” But Neil responds, “So do I! Let’s do it together!” Unlike everyone else in town, Neil finds Norman’s ability utterly fascinating. He tells his brother, “This one’s not weird. [shrug] He talks to dead people.”
The town of Blithe Hollow relies on its tourist trade, and the primary draw is the story of a witch who was tried and executed three hundred years ago. At first, the only involvement that Norman has with the town legend is the role of the pilgrim he plays in his school’s reenactment of the story. That changes when his eccentric and reclusive uncle (voiced by John Goodman) shows up rather suddenly. He tells Norman that the centuries-old witch’s curse is about to be fulfilled, and that he is the only person who can prevent it. Norman does his best to follow his uncle’s cryptic and incomplete instructions, but despite his efforts, the dead are raised and zombies come to Blithe Hollow (and unlike the ghosts, the zombies can actually be seen by the townsfolk). Unfortunately that’s the least of Norman’s problems: the witch’s ghost threatens untold mayhem and destruction to the town unless he can figure out how to stop her.
All of the conflicts in the story arise from the same fundamental and very human problem: the characters are making decisions based on fear. The early settlers of Blithe Hollow tried and executed the witch because they were scared. The witch cursed them because she was scared. Norman’s friends and family shun and ridicule him because they are afraid of what he can do. The townspeople form a mob and lash out when the zombies arrive, because they are afraid. Unsurprisingly, none of the fear-based decisions that the characters make are good decisions—some of them are even reprehensible and vile. Fear is a consequence of the fallen world in which we live. Norman’s grandmother—well, the ghost of his grandmother (voiced by Elaine Stritch)—tells him, “There’s nothing wrong with being scared, so long as you don’t let it change who you are.” We are all afraid at times, but we cannot let fear rule our lives or guide our decisions; but rather we should surrender our fears to God. Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Bible tells us that God is with us always, and there is no place for fear: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) And in Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
I really enjoyed ParaNorman. It’s cute, funny, and a little dark—and surprisingly deep considering it’s an animated movie about ghosts, witches, and zombies. Additionally, the visuals are fantastic—the character and background designs are really well done, and the visual effects are spooky and cool. (The production designer is Nelson Lowry, whose other credits include Corpse Bride and Fantastic Mr. Fox). Here’s a bit of technical trivia: the filmmakers used 3D printers to generate the faces of all of the characters (a gadget that has been on my Christmas list for a few years now). I definitely recommend this movie—particularly as Halloween approaches.
Psalm 27:1 “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?”
1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”