Tales of Despair: Paranorman

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Paranorman yet, read no further!

I know what you’re thinking: isn’t Paranorman that stop-motion kids’ movie that came out earlier this summer? You know, the one with funny-looking zombies and plenty of goofs?

Yes, it is…sort of.

I took Little Satis to see it the other day – a kind of day-before-school treat – assuming it would be a good bit of fun. Something like Corpse Bride, I thought, or The Nightmare Before Christmas (goulish animation seems to be the exclusive realm of Tim Burton). I wasn’t expecting to find a movie that was surprisingly dark, genuinely scary, and ultimately heartbreaking.

Norman talks to dead people, and unsurprisingly, most people – including his parents – think he’s a freak. The only person who listens to him is the fat kid, who shares his torment.

The town he lives in, Blithe, is renown for the trial and execution of an evil witch some three hundred years ago. Soon, strange goings-on begin, and Norman is confronted by a crazy man claiming to be his uncle, telling him he must read from a book at the witch’s grave before sundown, or the dead will rise. Needless to say, the old man dies, Norman doesn’t make it in time, and a host of zombies – the seven folk who had sentenced the witch to death – rise from their graves: cursed by her to wander forever, undead. Norman, the fat kid and his unwilling older sister are now faced with delivering the town now not only from the hordes of zombies, but from the evil of the witch herself.

The darkness in this movie, however, comes not from the ghostly story or ghoulish characters, but rather from Norman himself; the creators of Paranorman made the (brave) decision to create a main character – in a children’s movie, no less – who is drowned in misery and depression. Norman passes through his life numb, bearing the torment of those around him, and never considering that there could be any other way of life. The thought of tossing a stick for a dog to fetch – the concept of fun – is entirely lost on him.

And of course, it could be no other way, for the ending of the story was as emotional as it was surprising. Gradually, we learn that the seven undead executors, far from being evil, are merely seeking rest – relief from the torment of living dead for over three hundred years. And when Norman hunts desperately to discover where the witch’s grave could be, he discovered a terrible, tragic truth: the demonic witch, scourge of the town and held as evil for three hundred years, was only an eleven-year old girl. For nothing more than appearing to control fire, she was hunted, trialled, and executed.

I was blinking back tears by the end of a movie I had expected to be thoughtless entertainment (after all, it wasn’t Pixar). But the misery, the tragedy of so young a girl, ripped from her parents by ignorant, fearful men and put horribly to death…it was so unexpected, and so sad, that my heart went out to her. In my throat was caught my heart when the girl’s ghost, finally spent of her rage, collapses to her knees and utters…

I want my mommy.

This was no children’s movie, despite what its producers would have us believe. It was something special – something that speaks to the bullied, the tormented and the abused in all of us. I am glad I saw it – and glad Little Satis did to, despite it all. The world is a dark place sometimes, and our children need to learn this: it will make them appreciate the light all the more.

2 thoughts on “Tales of Despair: Paranorman

    • Thank you! It was funny – though there were moments he grabbed my hand because he was scared, he’ll never know that I was just as glad to have that hand!

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