I went to see ParaNorman at the weekend. I’ll precede this by saying that it’s a good film. I don’t generally like kids films (okay, I hate them) but this one was engaging – enjoyable even. Was it actually suitable for children though? No fucking idea. I very rarely come in to contact with those peculiar and diminutive members of society. It definitely touched on some more challenging topics to discuss with children and I, for one, am glad that I don’t have to do any of the explaining. Let me tell you why:
(First off, this post is going to be a bit spoiler-y. Let me tell you that now. I am going to mention things that happen in the film. I don’t think this is too big a deal because, hey, it’s not the new Batman movie; it’s only a kids film. Don’t get your knickers in a twist.)
So, Norman is an eleven year old boy. He can see and talk to dead people, Sixth Sense style. The ghost of his grandma watches horror films with him and he even plays fetch with a dead dog. Once the scene is set, Norman is told that he must retrieve a book from the clutches of a recently deceased relative. For me, as an eleven year old, I would have cried and/or shat myself at the prospect of doing this. (Think how much of a big deal it was in Stand By Me. Awesome film, by the way.) Norman however performs the task with dubious aplomb and energy. This culminates in a very silly sequence where Norman drags and yanks the body around the room almost like a wrestling match. He bangs his Uncle’s head against furniture until finally his tongue flops out of his mouth and on to Norman’s face. (The whole cinema collectively “Urgh!”ed at this point.)
I’m guessing the film makers chose to play the scene with absolutely no grief in relation to the passing. In fact, no emotion or mention of the fact the guy’s just died at all while the kid was in the room with him. Maybe they thought that was the best way to play a death in a kids film. I just thought the humour was very badly placed. Just as an aside, why didn’t Norman phone someone to tell them his Uncle passed away?
The idea of respect for the dead and their bodies is touched on again later in the film with zombies. The zombies were the living dead raised from the time of witch trials. This scenario pushes the idea of respect for the dead in their physical form to the extreme. The guy holding the book had been gone mere hours but the zombies had been dead centuries. How much respect should their remains garner? As far as I see it, all human remains deserve reverential treatment but it’s hard when these remains are animated in living dead form. As artefacts, recently excavated, I could imagine them being dealt with tersely and I guess that is reasonable. In the film though, as with all incidents of the risen undead, shot guns were grabbed and pitchforks were raised. People in zombie movies very rarely spare a thought for the the monsters’ former human selves when they’re guttering “brraaainnss!”. As it turns out in ParaNorman, the zombies only wanted to apologise for their past mistakes, resolve the situation and overall not eat people. This twist totally humanised the zombies and neatly demonstrated that they were people once, rather than being one dimensional flesh eating demons. I don’t know how much of this film was meant to make you think about things like legacy and the human condition (as I was plagued) but this was definitely there to do that. It was a nice touch in my opinion.
Another part of the film that raised an eyebrow for me was when Norman had to visit the unmarked grave of a little girl who was murdered for being a witch. Now, the film does a reasonably good job of handling this. It doesn’t mention the word “murder”, for example. The little girl is merely referred to as “killed” and you don’t see this happen. She goes from crying in a court room to being a floaty, scary ghost. As soon as they mentioned that she was buried in an unmarked grave, however, I was immediately in mind of Ian Brady and the like and this felt pretty uncomfortable for me. The zombies were those responsible for the little girl’s death and they did apologise. As much as you can in a kids film. It was all just very weird.
I’m not being a gigantic fanny here either. I’m all for getting kids in to zombies and spooky stuff. I just wonder if it raises a lot of weird questions or ideas. I mean, even looking at a skull freaks me out. Not in a cry-baby way – just in a “grim reminder of your own mortality” way. I can’t remember who said it (I want to say Sartre or Descartes or Freud or someone!) but some smart dude once said “the greatest denial of mankind is that of his own death”. I’m pretty sure if you told a child they were going to die, they’d start crying. Perhaps they don’t make the link between a skeleton and the former person those bones used to occupy. I shouldn’t be the one to inform them of that. I remember, quite clearly, the rapid realisation I had that I would die. I was in my early twenties. Yes, it took THAT LONG.
So there you have it. I’m sure to little kids it’s just a fun, scary movie about ghosts the olden days. Basically though, I’m glad I don’t have to explain ParaNorman to a child because I’d probably confuse them and probably make them cry.