The nominations: Animated Feature
The film: In a small Massachusetts town called Blithe Hollow there lives a boy named Norman Babcock and he can see and speak to the dead. From his unbelieving family to the bullies at school, Norman lives a solitary life with only the ghosts to talk to. A large redheaded boy named Neil, who is also bullied, is intrigued by Norman and is eager to believe in his gift, accepting Norman so wholeheartedly and without prejudice that Norman relents to being his friend.
One day during practice for his school’s commemorative play celebrating the execution of the town’s witch three hundred years ago, Norman has a vision of the real execution and is terrorized as a witch by the townspeople from the Puritan era. Afterwards Norman is confronted by his uncle Mr. Prenderghast who warns his nephew that his visions are a sign that Norman must continue the ritual in his stead to protect the town. Initially Norman ignores the warning, but when he has another vision during the play, embarrassing his father, Norman becomes increasingly wary. The next day, Mr. Prenderghast, who died suddenly the previous night, appears as a ghost to Norman and tells him the ritual, the reading of a special book at the witch’s grave, must be done before sundown. But when Norman finds that the book is merely a collection of fairy tales, he becomes confused. Before he can figure out the situation a horrible cloud in the shape of a witch appears and the corpses of the witch’s executioners rise from their graves. Running from the zombies Norman finds his sister Courtney, Neil, and Neil’s brother Mitch. The group goes the town hall to check the archives for any clues that might help, still pursued by zombies. Upset with the group’s unwillingness to believe him and help, Norman climbs to the roof to try reading the book to the witch again, but to no avail. Norman is knocked unconscious and dreams of the real witch’s trial, a young girl his age possessed with his same gift of communing with the dead. When he awakes, he knows he must find a truer solution to put the tortured child’s spirit to rest.
The odds: As children’s movies go and especially with animated films, Hollywood seems to have left their subliminal messages on factory setting; all of the films nominated for this year’s Animated Feature Oscar are filled with ideas of conquering your fears, making your own harmonious world, and being your own hero…accept for ParaNorman. None of those aforementioned messages are to be frowned upon, but this film offers something altogether different to its viewers that in this day and age strikes so true: horror and sadness all the bad things of your life aren’t things you can magically keep away because you don’t want them, they are something you accept and learn to live with. Bullying is horrible, but believing it will one day just be gone is unrealistic. As the adorable character Neil says to Norman when asked about being bullied, “You can’t stop bullying - it’s a part of human nature. If you were bigger and more stupid, you’d probably be a bully too. It’s called ‘survival of the thickest.’” ParaNorman exhibits a sense of earnestness on these intense subjects and craftily advocates the teaching of acceptance of all kinds of people whether their slow or overweight or flaky or mean or bizarre or even gay, pushing for the erasure of the judgment before the bullying begins lest the ramifications ripple out of control and bring your town to the bring of apocalypse by an angry ghost. The second film from Laika Studios (their first was Coraline), ParaNorman is an exquisite show of breathtaking detail filled with a number of impressive advances in the art of stop-motion technology that makes it a stand out amongst the other two stop-motion nominees. The film isn’t as robust and well-rounded as the critically-acclaimed Frankenweenie or Academy favorite Pixar’s Brave; if I were voting though, I’d opt for this unique gem filled with sweet, esoteric charm and fantastic plasticine zombies.