“I see dead people” has been a popular theme in movies ever since Haley Joel Osment uttered the line in the 2000 (The Sixth Sense). Now Norman (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young boy living in the small New England town of Blithe Hollow, is also cursed/blessed with this metaphysical ability.
Whether it’s his dead grandmother who chides him for watching zombie movies or the legion of ghostly people he meets on the way to school, it’s fair to say this boy with the sixth sense gets very little time alone. Even worse, Norman’s otherworldly conversations make him a prime target for bullying from his peers and ridicule from his frustrated father. Still this ghost whisperer has attracted one friend, an overweight and allergy prone boy named Neil (voice of Tucker Albrizzi), who is accepting of Norman’s unusual talent.
Then there is Mr. Penderghast (voice of John Goodman), the typical spooky old guy who lives in the house on the hill and happens to be Norman’s uncle. Also rumored to be able to communicate with those who have passed on, he is desperate to teach the boy how to use his gift to thwart a centuries old curse on Blithe Hollow. Sadly the disheveled man dies before the information can be transferred. But fortunately he is still able to reach Norman, albeit in a most unusual way, with his face appearing in a school toilet.
Now Norman and Neil, along with their respective older siblings Courtney (voice of Anna Kendrick) and Mitch (Casey Affleck), are left with the daunting task of saving the town from the curse. And the evil charm is about to intensify with the 300th anniversary of a witch trial that resulted in a young girl’s execution.
Although the script features juvenile protagonists, this animation is very likely to frighten young children thanks to frequent jump scenes, gruesome images of corpses, insects bursting from teddy bears, and zombies with body parts that fall off. Obviously families who don’t appreciate occult themes will want to steer clear of this script that views witchcraft as a “special gift.” The bullying issue is also a concern because it is only Norman’s abilities that allow him to eventually gain respect from his aggressors—an unlikely solution for young audience members experiencing similar threats. And there are a couple of moments of mild sensuality including a teen girl who fawns over a bare-chested teen boy.
ParaNorman’s unique animation style and interesting musical score are worth noting. So are the occasional funny lines in the script and a message that uses the witchcraft plot to teach tolerance to modern day students. Yet it seems too scary for young kids, too immature for teens, and even less likely to interest adults. While it is commendable that Norman finds the courage to confront and tame the wicked force that wants to destroy his community, parents who want a good night’s sleep after this movie will need to carefully consider its appropriateness for their children.