Movie Review – ParaNorman
Before getting into my review of ParaNorman, take a moment to reflect on this amusing anecdote about Tim Burton: in 1989, Tim Burton revitalized the campy, childish Batman franchise with dark, gritty realism. Twenty years later, the dark, gritty, and realistic Batman is a wildly successful, billion dollar film franchise, and Tim Burton is making crappy claymation kids’ films. With that in mind: ParaNorman.
The film comes to us from American studio Laika, whose only other claim to fame, besides a handful of commercials and shorts, was 2009’s stop-motion success Coraline. The story of Laika is an interesting tale of squandered talent and near successes, and one that consistently reeks of the influence of Tim Burton. The problem is that Laika’s taken all of their influence from the Tim Burton of today. Thus, we’re left with films that are admittedly visually stunning but lack any narrative soul.
ParaNorman is voiced by the likes of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Casey Affleck, and John Goodman. When Norman (Smit-McPhee) puts on his best The Sixth Sense impression and claims he can see dead people, he is ostracized from his family and is ridiculed by the townspeople of his small Massachusetts town. Norman is approached by the ghost of his eccentric dead uncle—raise your hands if thought it would be someone other than John Goodman—who informs Norman that he must fulfill his family’s destiny by saving the town from the wrathful spirit of a witch that was executed in the town or some such nonsense. Bland dialogue, riots, zombies, Norman’s brother Casey Affleck comes out of the closet, roll credits…Wait, what?
That’s right, by hook and crook, ParaNorman actually has a claim to fame: near the end of the film, Norman’s brother, Mitch, comes out to everyone. This makes Mitch the widely-believed first openly gay character in a mainstream children’s animated film. Mike Ryan of The Huffington Post cites this revelation as one of the reasons why ParaNorman is "remarkable". To me, it’s what makes ParaNorman panderous.
Another particularly irritating instance of this trend came to us from 2008’s Death Race. In the film, Machine Gun Joe is revealed to be gay. And that’s it. It’s made reference to one or two other times, but other than that, exists only as filler dialogue. In a light-hearted kids’ film like ParaNorman, not only is this factoid unnecessary, but it also seems a bit insulting. If your film has a gay character, and this information serves to impact the narrative in a profound and meaningful way, then I wish you the best. I applaud your desire to do something daring. But if this revelation is made to give a hitherto unrealized character some semblance of a personality is just degrading. I sincerely hope that Laika wasn’t trying to make a progressive statement because, if so, they really dropped the ball.
So, that’s ParaNorman in a nutshell. If you still cream your skinny jeans every time you see a new hoodie with Jack Skellington’s face on it, then go buy tickets to ParaNorman en masse. If, like me, you’re sick of this unmitigated clay crap, then stay the hell at home.