ParaNorman gets subversive quickly. We are not afraid of the zombies eating the children, we are afraid of the parents burning the children alive. Surviving in the midst of ugly (in and out) adults like the monstrous Teacher (with her green mask, she is almost indistinguishable from zombies) and the angry, blood-thirsty mob is no easy feat. Norman is the last boy standing – and it’s not the best way to learn about the world when you are a kid.
In the Middle Ages ‘weird’ people were burnt at the cross; today their lockers are sprayed with ‘FREAK’. It’s definitely progress – in terms of form; in terms of content not much has changed. With art projects like ParaNorman there is some hope though, and it’s much needed – everywhere around the world.
On the fun side, ParaNorman is a crazy fiesta of vibrant colours and amazing imagery. Norman looks like a child top model with his huge asymmetric eyes, crooked nostrils and Will Smith ears, which light up like overweight fireflies when the sun shines through them. His room is a haven of zombie paraphernalia – from wallpaper and bedcover to nightlight and slippers, all in the most eye-popping, juicy hues.
The whole idea of the zombie apocalypse hasn’t been so reinvented and turned upside down since Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later as it is in ParaNorman. The zombies (slow again) possess intelligence (and sometimes make more sense than humans), communicate with each other and are basically ‘good’ despite smelling terribly and groaning all the time. The focus here is on psychological horror and the intertextual fright potential of the zombie metaphor (we know they might be a threat, so we are scared – just in case).
Verdict: A movie about a bullying epidemic that is like a zombie one (once bitten the virus begins to spread, where former victims become aggressors) couldn’t be timelier. It’s beautiful. It’s very funny. It startles and scares. And it teaches us not to fear. What’s not to love?