A Mom’s-Eye View of ‘ParaNorman’
Photo: Focus Features
Middle-schooler Norman sees dead people. He's clairvoyant. That shouldn't come as a complete surprise since he lives in the hamlet of Blithe Hollow where the biggest industry is witch-related tourism. Three centuries ago, the local pilgrims hung an alleged sorceress, buried her in an unmarked grave, and brought down a curse upon their heads. With his special gift, Norman earns the job of finding and placating the witch before she unleashes the bodies of her pilgrim judge, jury, and accusers to walk Blithe Hollow, undead and presumably hungry for human brains.
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The language is totally tame
Alvin and his bully buddies write the word "freak" on Norman's locker, and that's about as bad as it gets.
The sex is all in the curves
Norman is prepubescent and would probably be more horrified by seeing something sexual than viewing the town's cheerful undead on his walk to school. His curvy sister Courtney is a little overdone, and she throws herself at the local tattooed jock, but it's mostly for cartoon effect.
And, yes, it's scary
The movie begins with Norman sitting in the dark watching a scary movie while the ghost of his grandmother sits on the couch nearby, knitting and keeping Norman company. Like many kids, Norman's attracted to the thrills of horror and then is either riveted or repelled when the story takes a turn beyond his comfort zone. It's central to the movie that there are scary elements — the pack of zombies would horrify small children, but humor mitigates the chills. The walking dead keep losing body parts — an ear here, a leg there. The flesh of their jaws dangles below their teeth. When the witch arrives, she's a bit like the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. The effects she creates — the threatening cloud storms in the shape of a witch's face — are much larger and more terrifying than the actual being. In horror, as in life, often the biggest scares come from what you imagine will be coming, not what actually, finally appears.
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"ParaNorman" is definitely not "Dumbo." It's too scary for preschool kids and may be frightening to children all the way up to age seven or a sensitive eight. The sweet spot is really kids Norman's age — 11 — give or take a few years. What makes "ParaNorman" great is that it's a movie that deals with being scared thematically — everybody gets scared. Fear is a natural part of life, whether a kid is confronted by a bully at his locker or a supernatural foe raising a seven-person zombie squad. So, while it has its scares from the undead, it also gives kids a handle to deal with that fear. In a way, it could be seen as a gateway scary movie, delivering mild horror kicks while messaging viewers on how to deal with scares both paranormal and mundane. Because of that dynamic — presenting scares and then addressing them — "ParaNorman" naturally provides a platform for parents and kids to address fears both mundane and supernatural. And who's afraid of that?