A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that ParaNorman is, above all else, a monster movie, and it will scare little kids. It's animated (stop-motion), but it's full of ghosts, corpses, zombies, and witches and is aimed toward older kids and teens. There are chases, "jump" scenes, characters in peril, frightful zombies with body parts flapping and falling off, creepy houses with looming shadows (and, in the 3-D version, a swarm of bugs bursting out of a teddy bear straight at you), an angry mob with weapons, and much more. The language (lots of insults directed at Norman) and teen hormones (overt flirting and discussion of how "hot" a couple of teen characters are, as well as flashes of cleavage and a broad shirtless chest) are also more mature than in most animated movies for the younger set. There are also hurtful conflicts between parents and kids, some bullying takes place, and a character is revealed to be gay in a low-key way. While it has themes about tolerance and teamwork and could be a great pick for brave older tweens and middle-schoolers, this cool frightfest is very likely to be too much for younger moviegoers to handle.
What's the story?
Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) isn't your ordinary middle-school misfit. He lives in the small New England town of Blithe Hollow, which is famous for a centuries-old witch hunt, and he can see and speak to the ghosts who reside there. Norman's great-uncle explains to him that, on the upcoming anniversary of the witch's execution, Norman must read from a special book to end her curse on the town. Before he can succeed, Norman -- who's friendless except for a pudgy classmate named Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) -- must band together with a motley crew including his popular older sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), Neil's older brother, Mitch (Casey Affleck), and the school bully (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) to take on the witch and a group of more-than-they-seem zombies.
Is it any good?
Written and directed by Chris Butler, who worked on both Coraline and Corpse Bride, PARANORMAN has the same lush, stylized stop-action animation as those similarly moody films. And, like Coraline, Norman is an outcast with a complicated relationship with his parents. While the supporting characters here aren't nearly as vivid as Coraline's eccentric neighbors (it was, after all, a Neil Gaiman-based adaptation), Norman is an earnest underdog who's easy to cheerlead for -- even if you weren't a middle-school loner yourself.
There's a sophistication to Laika's 3-D stop-action films, and they're just edgy enough to engage even jaded teens who fancy themselves too old for animation. This is not a Disney princess musical; it's got an authenticity to its teenspeak (especially Courtney's hormone-fueled attempts to attract dim-bulb Mitch) and a deep understanding of the perils of early adolescence, when being different feels like it's the worst curse but can really be a blessing in disguise.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how everyone can feel lonely and ignored at times, just like Norman. How does Norman change, and how does Neil teach him about the importance of friendship?
What audience do you think ParaNorman is intended for? Is it too scary for younger kids? What aspects of the movie make it more mature than the average animated flick?
How does Norman deal with bullying at school? Discuss the many ways kids can get bullied these days and what your children should do if they're experiencing it.
- In theaters: August 17, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: November 27, 2012
- Cast: Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kodi Smit-McPhee
- Directors: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.