ParaNorman: Bringing Dinner Back from the Dead

Year Released: 2012

Directed by: Chris Butler, Sam Fell

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Ablrizzi, John Goodman, Anna Kendrick

(PG, 93 min.)

"There are no compacts between lions and men, and wolves and lambs have no accord."  Homer

Think of those sweet-faced kids who don rubber masks, wax vampire teeth, and the occasional white sheet as they pretend to scare you out of the packaged sweets you hand out to them every Halloween.  That’s about as charming as the assorted ghosts, zombies, and witches that “people” Paranorman’s world are.

And that’s a good thing, I guess.  It follows a long line of attempts to humanize our fears by making Casper the Friendly Ghost so cuddly-cute, or crafting such a lovely devoted bride in Elizabeth Montgomery’s Bewitched. Who could ever fear an alien invasion after seeing the adorable E.T.? Even that ugly green giant Shrek gets the loveable ogre soft sell.

Quite frankly, given the presence of my two young grandchildren, I was glad that ParaNorman never reached the more frightening parallel world glimpsed in its sister production Coraline, but I was also somewhat disappointed, too.

While Coraline filled its cast with some genuine eccentrics, such as Mr. Bobisnski, “a Russian acrobat trying to create a flying mouse circus if he can just motivate his crew with the right cheese,” this more recent film relies on stereotypes and stock characters.  Coraline’s parents were the same daft but well-meaning pair as Norman’s (Kodi Smit-McPhee), but hers were developed with just the right ironic touch, a pair devoted to their gardening website, but loath to ever dirty their hands with the real thing.  The only joke about Norman’s father is his protruding belly.  Norman’s sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) acts like a rich valley girl even though she is Northeast working class. The school bully is about as large as Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), the fat kid he harasses, and his spelling skills are limited. That’s about it.

Neil erases the “Fatty” label from his locker with the same stoic resignation that Norman (Have I failed to mention that he  “sees dead people?”) applies to the “Freak” designation on his.  The resident Windex and paper towel he tucks away in his locker are a sad testimony to the unending persecution and his passive acceptance of it.

Neil, who eventually becomes Norman’s single friend, has a certain deadpan wisdom that distinguishes him from the others.  There will always be bullies, he observes, and if Norman were bigger and dumber, he’d probably be a bully, too.

Contrast that to the sugary advice Norman gets from his grandmother, albeit that she is dead and buried. Her ghostly form prefers to sit at her accustomed place on the living room sofa, placidly knitting and giving her counsel to little Norman.  She laments the violence in the zombie movies he watches, wondering if they just couldn’t get together and talk things out.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers follow her insipid advice.  Everything that spurs the pyrotechnics and high action of the film is willed away with a little psycho-babble.  The 300-year-old immolation of an accused witch, in reality, a little girl who shared Norman’s abilities as a medium, her curse, and the zombies rising from the dead in accordance with it, are just a little misunderstanding that Norman, with his special abilities, can resolve for them.  The Puritan elders who unfairly sentenced her so long ago, were just frightened by things they couldn’t understand.  And her curse is wrong, because when you hurt someone who causes you pain, you are no better than they are.

Maybe I am taking this too seriously, but this kind of pap when applied to real evil is not just naïve, it is dangerous.  Like those alternate tales that resurrect Little Red Riding Hood from the wolf’s belly, we reassure ourselves with the false vision of a safe world, instead of instilling the fearful admonition the original tale was meant to foster.  Forget the anti-bullying school programs.  I’m with Neil on this one.

However, junior critics Weston and Ava think their Memaw is full of Balderdash on this call.  They absolutely loved ParaNorman, especially the ghost scene in the school bathroom with Norman cringing on his porcelain thrown as the walls explode around him.  So what do I know?

–Kathy Borich and the Peanut Gallery




Film-Loving Foodie

Instead of a traditional recipe to go with our film, I am taking some advice from the cooking channel to go with ParaNorman:  Tips to Bring Your Dinner Back from the Dead.

Bringing Dinner Back from the Dead

Transform Salty Soup with Potatoes

If you misread “teaspoons” for “tablespoons” and you’re now the proud owner of the world’s saltiest soup, slice a spud and let it simmer in your soup for twenty minutes, then remove it. The potato will not only thicken your soup but also absorb salt, leaving your soup tasting less like the Dead Sea and more like dinner.

Make Soup with Overcooked Veggies

Broccoli goes from green to grey in a matter of seconds, and overcooked zucchini is a watery mess. Take any overcooked vegetables, add some broth and a splash of cream, blend, and you’ve got a fantastic vegetable soup instead of a cooked-to-death dinner.

More tips at the link below.