A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
ParaNorman's themes include tolerance, understanding, unconditional friendship, bravery, and family support. Norman evolves from a lonely misfit who's bullied at school to a town hero by accepting not only his own selfless mission but acknowledging his need for help -- and helping others. Parents will also learn the importance of giving their children the benefit of the doubt and really listening to them instead of dismissing their ideas as just wacky or strange.
Positive Role Models
Norman doesn't have the best relationship with his parents, especially his father, who finds Norman's penchant for talking to the dead a sign of mental illness or adolescent angst. Neil and his brother, Mitch, are good friends to Norman; they get involved even when they don't have to and offer to help despite Norman's protests. Courtney starts off as a mean big sister but eventually cheers for and supports Norman on his mission. Norman himself is lonely and hesitant to ask for help at first but realizes he doesn't have to do everything by himself. Even the zombies are more sympathetic than they first appear to be.
Violence & Scariness
The movie has an overwhelmingly scary, dark, moody, tone that's set by Norman's interest in monster movies (the movie opens with an animated monster-movie scene that includes a person in peril being chased) and continued by his ability to talk to ghosts (including his grandma, which could be upsetting for some kids) and encounters with frightful-looking zombies. Many frightening scenes will scare younger viewers used to more benign animated movies. Some of the ghosts that Norman can speak to are shown with fatal injuries and/or obvious reasons for their deaths. A character dies on screen. Many scenes feature either a corpse (Norman has to "wrestle" with one in one gross sequence) or falling-apart zombies. The kids think they're going to be ripped apart by the monsters, who chase them in a long sequence that includes tense moments and some startling "jump" scenes. The witch's ghost is very loud and destructive and nearly kills Norman and his family; it also causes a very ominous/scary cloud and sets off hostile sparks and blasts of electric energy. The townsfolk become a bloodthirsty mob ready to use their weapons (including guns) on the witch, zombies, or anyone who appears to be aligned with them. Norman's great-uncle seems creepy and strange (and his house is even more so); his parents argue; a car crashes and rolls.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Courtney flirts a lot with Mitch, whom she first bumps into while he's shirtless and wearing only a towel. From that moment on, she makes comments about how "hot" he is and tries to get him to reciprocate her advances. She wears a midriff-baring exercise suit that she zips down to show off her cleavage; she's also very curvy (as are other female characters). A butt-grabbing is implied; Norman mentions watching "sex and violence" on TV early in the movie.
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Insults like "freak," "stupid," "crazy," "loser," "ghost boy," "freakshow," "fatty," and more are used fairly frequently against Norman and his friend. Norman says "the F-word" (referring to a swear word, but not actually saying it). A (dead) grandmother calls her son "jackass." Courtney makes very authentic sounding "mean girl" comments like: "I really like her a lot, but she's a complete loser." Also "darn it," "damnation," "sucks," "boobs," "OMG," "Jesus" (as part of an exclamation), "weiner," and "hell."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Norman's great-uncle takes unexplained pills.
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.