By Kristy Harding
I was ten minutes late to a Friday night showing of ParaNorman. Since it had only been out for a week, I was worried that I would have a hard time getting a seat. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I got to the theater and discovered that it was almost completely empty.
ParaNorman was released with high expectations as a follow-up of sorts of the hit movie Coraline, yet, even with such a high bar, the critics were not disappointed. As of this writing, ParaNorman has an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes.
So, why the empty theater?
I’ll admit after watching the trailer I was a bit concerned that ParaNorman would be just a cleverly-animated butts and farts movie, but I was surprised to find a funny, atmospheric horror film with delightful characters and a fairly nuanced examination of mob thinking.
That’s a lot of different stuff to cram into one movie, but ParaNorman pulls it off. The plot was such a faithful example of the hero’s journey, I found myself going through the steps in my head as I watched: This is the part where he resists the call to save the town from the witch, now we discover that Grandma is really a mentor figure, now we watch him do battle with the threshold guardian who has been protecting the town, and so on. While this made the plot rather predictable, it also meant that the filmmakers had plenty of room for nuance in other places.
Like Coraline, the setting was gorgeous. As someone who grew up in New England and has spent a significant portion of my life in or near Eastern Massachusetts, I am difficult to please with New England settings, but dark woods and eerie town made me genuinely nostalgic for the North Shore.
Norman’s best friend, Neil, was one of the most endearing side-kicks I’ve seen in a long time. He could have easily been reduced to the stereotypical bullied-yet-easy-going clown found in every high school, thrown into the mix for comic relief. Instead, he is presented as a nuanced kid who drew the short straw on life and faces each challenge with a mix of resignation and acceptance.
In fact, none of the characters felt thrown in or like plot devices. Everyone Norman encountered had a place in the web of relationships in Norman’s small town and this connection is where much of the film’s heart and humor came from.
Maybe this nuance is why the theater was empty the night I went to see ParaNorman. It’s difficult enough to give a sense of the subtleties of this film in a review, but in the trailer the film’s complexity was absolutely lost. After such a short tour of the theaters, I can only hope ParaNorman will be available to stream before Halloween and gets the vindication it deserves in the Netflix afterlife.