There's nothing wrong with being scared, Norman, so long as you don't let it change who you are.
ParaNorman is a stop-motion animated comedy horror film from Laika Animation Studios, better known for their success with Coraline. It's directed by Chris Butler (the main storyboard artist on Coraline) and Sam Fell (an Aardman alumni and director of Flushed Away), based off a script written by Butler, and was released in August 2012. Also, this movie milked its PG rating for all it was worth.The film follows the titular protagonist, Norman (voiced by KodiSmit-McPhee), living in a small town in Massachusetts. With the "gift" of speaking to the dead, Norman is called an outcast by most of the town, most of which populated by childish adults and a nasty population of kids. When the town comes under siege by zombies,ghosts and witches, only he can actually save the town from these creatures, not to mention a three centuries-old curse on the town.Now has a shout out and a character page.
Adult Fear: Agatha, an innocent child, was condemned to death as a witch by a fearful society. And it almost happens again, with the protests of Norman's parents drowned out by the yelling of the mob, showing just how powerless they are to stop it.
All of the Other Reindeer: Deconstructed. Norman tries to take the constant bullying with grace but often finds his heroics hampered by almost every living person's low opinion of him. It doesn't help that the witch (in fact, an 11 year old girl) died because of this.
An Aesop: Multiple: "don't let fear make you do bad things," "bullying of any kind is wrong," and most importantly, "revenge is wrong". Interestingly, it's not the protagonist who needs to learn the last one; instead, he teaches it to the accused witch.
A meta example would be Mitch being the first openly homosexual character in a mainstream children's animated film (though this isn't revealed until the last few minutes of the film). The creators have gone on to state that this reveal is tied to the overall message of the film of not judging people.
Just because people are mean to you, it doesn't mean you should be mean back; it will only make things worse.
Alternatively, even if it seems that everyone loathes you or hurts you, there's always someone out there who does love you.
People often do or say cruel things when they're scared.
And I Must Scream: Pretty much the witch's curse the town is famous for. The seven Puritans are said to be damned to walk the earth as the undead. They're all very aware of their punishment when the curse comes into full effect in the movie.
Anti-Villain: Both "the witch" and the zombies. The former by being just an angry little girl lashing out at every out of revenge and the latter for killing Agatha because they were afraid and feeling genuinely remorseful for it.
Neil: Itís just because Iím fat and my allergies make my eyes leak and I sweat when I walk too fast and my lunchbox has a kitten on it. Ooh! And I have irritable bowel syndrome.
Brick Joke: The cheesy zombie flick Norman watches in the opening cuts away just as the girl is attacked by the zombie. At the Book Ends ending, the now zombified girl is briefly seen munching on a severed limb.
Bring My Brown Pants: When Alvin first tries to run away from the zombies, he exclaims "I think I peed my pants!"
Casanova Wannabe: Alvin is frequently seen trying to woo girls while never coming close to impressing them. He's aware of it, too.
Cassandra Truth: Norman has apparently told a lot of people about his ability, and they all think he's either insane or lying for attention, but worthy of ridicule either way. Makes it really difficult to get support when the dead actually rise.
Collective Groan: The reaction of the group after the library at Neil's elation that he finished a whole book in one night. A book twenty-seven pages long.
Even better, they were looking for records on the accused witch, and Neil had picked an old asbestos installation manual.
Comically Missing the Point: When Mitch accidentally runs over a zombie, the head comes to life and growls at him. He freaks out and kicks it. When he gets back in the car, Courtney and the others are freaking out over a man apparently coming back to life, Mitch is more impressed by how far he kicked the zombie's head.
And earlier, Norman tries to give Neil the brush-off by saying he prefers to be alone. Neil's response?
Neil: So do I! Let's do it together.
Cool Loser: Norman happens to be able to speak to the dead, but is considered an outsider in the community. However, this is somewhat justified when you really consider from everyone else's perspective how this is a kid who is going around claiming he speaks with dead people.
Cosmetic Horror: The school drama teacher. Mrs. Henscher's daytime makeup is awful, but her puke green facial mask was bad enough that only her talking saved her from being mistaken for a zombie.
Crapsack World: The town is a rundown little suburb, the locals have a low tolerance for any behavior that lies outside the norm, and it of course has a dark secret.
Creepy Child: Norman is considered this by some, but Aggy is more a terribly wronged one.
We see early on how it looks to everyone else; he ducks around empty air, constantly talks to empty space, and even stops at roadkill to pet it. As it's not until shortly thereafter we get to see through his eyes, it's pretty clear he comes across as a Cloud Cuckoo Lander at best.
There's also the nameless kid in the mob that sets her teddy-bear on fire and chucks it through a broken window. She also carries around a zombie's arm for a short portion of the movie before giving it back.
Darker and Edgier: It's even darker than Coraline - this is saying something. It also only got a PG rating - probably one of the darkest PG rated movies out there.
Dark Is Not Evil: The ghosts all over town are a pretty friendly bunch overall. Likewise, the zombies were never malicious, they just wanted to atone for their sin of killing the "witch", Agatha, who in turn was simply angry over the wrongs that were committed against her.
Dumb Muscle: Mitch and Alvin are pretty strong given their ages, and not too bright.
Earn Your Happy Ending: Norman has to fight a supernatural menace to protect a town that largely scorns him, only to find a growing number of the townspeople realize that his ability is to speak to the dead is real and they are ready to help him in the crisis, until by the end, he is hailed as a fearless hero with an extraordinary ability.
Eating the Eye Candy: Courtney is delighted when Mitch answers the door wearing nothing but a towel.
Mitch: Uh... Can I help you?
Enfant Terrible: A extra animated as a little girl tears off a zombies arm and later on lights her teddy bear on fire in order to set the town hall alight.
Evil Is Petty: The witch cursed the entire town to be attacked by the zombies of the people who tried her. Averted in the end. Aggy wasn't cursing the town to be attacked by zombies, she was cursing the zombies to go through the same thing she went through.
It seems to be a trait for those in the family who can see ghosts, as both Mr. Prenderghast and Aggie have faceted eyes as well.
Extra-Strength Masquerade: The television news report the following day suggests that the rest of the state attributes the entire supernatural event to a "freak tornado" hitting Blithe Hollow.
Eye Scream: Alvin gets poked in the eye repeatedly by a zombie arm.
Family-Unfriendly Death: Agatha's death. The thought of an innocent 11-year-old girl being sentenced to hanging is very unsettling. Not to mention how it's suggested that the zombies chasing Norman the whole film were killed by Aggie's "witch powers" after sentencing her to death.
Favouritism Flip Flop: At the end of the film, Alvin explains to a couple of girls that he and Norman have been real close for years now. Seeing how Alvin was Norman's bully, that statement is technically true.
The practice for the school play, especially the line about the portrayal of the witch not being historically accurate.
During the opening B-Movie, Norman's Grandma suggests that instead of running, the girl in the film could try to reason with the zombie.
Early in the film, Neil tells Norman that he'd be a bully too if he was strong and stupid like Alvin. When Norman confronts Agatha, one of the thing he tells her is that using her power to terrorize the townfolk just makes her a bully.
After the play, Sandra tells Norman "Sometimes we do/say things because we are scared." This line is said later by Norman.
In a meta example, TV spots aired around the Olympics show the zombies getting along well with Norman.
Funny Background Event: A couple on a date are cooing at each other over wine, while out the window Mitch's car tumbles and bounces down the hill.
The Future Is Shocking: The Puritan zombies are awakened in the modern day, and are shocked to see such things as a bar, sexy advertisements, and a TV window display broadcasting endless scenes of war, violence, and scantily-clad pop stars.
Genre Savvy: The bar owner. When she realizes the man asking for help is not drunk or crazy and that there really are zombies, she shouts, "KILL 'EM IN THE HEAD!"
Genre Deconstruction: Oh boy a lot. Zombies come back from the dead to wreak havoc on a sleepy town thanks to a witch's curse. Except the witch was an innocent little girl, the zombies are completely harmless and rather pathetic compared to anything in Norman's horror movies, and the town uses the little girl's trial and hanging to pull in the tourists and sell cheesy merchandise.
Heroic BSOD: Norman has a psychotic break when he learns that the witch was eleven years old when she died and the witchcraft she was accused of was the ability to talk to ghosts.
Hollywood History: In-Universe example; the school play about the witch's curse is admitted to be historically inaccurate. The play's witch is a stereotypical hideous crone, while the real witch was a scared little girl persecuted and killed for something she didn't understand.
Humans Are the Real Monsters: In this movie, it's the humans who are the aggressive attackers and the ghosts and zombies who just want to help. Not to mention that the Puritan zombies were actually much worse people when they were still human. At the same time, a big theme of the movie is that people often do bad things because they're afraid, not because they're inherently cruel. When they realize there's nothing to be afraid of, they're much kinder.
If You Can Read This: The background text in the movie is absolutely rife with jokes, puns, and unusual bits of humor, such that it's almost impossible to catch all of it in one viewing. Things like Salma's "My First Fusion Reactor" book and "The hands of fate" board game for instance...
Invisible Parents: We know Neil and Mitch must have them, if only because of "Mom's exercise DVDs", but they're never seen.
Ironic Echo: Sanda tells Norman the reason Perry is always angry is because he's afraid for Norman. He initially believed his dad is afraid of him , which was the same reason Judge Hopkins and the other zombies felt about Aggie.
The drama teacher not only chews the scenery with every line she says, but she insists that her student actors do the same thing.
Old Man Prenderghast, as well.
Leitmotif: Both Norman and Neil have very noticeable ones, Norman's being a clarinet with acoustic guitar in the background, and Neil's being a simple keyboard riff with a xylophone and what seems to be bongos in the background.
Mr. Prenderghast has one as well; a simple strings tune.
Even Agatha gets one, sounding like a modern take on the soundtrack of a zombie chase scene from the '80s. It plays during fights with her, the most epic being her last fight with Norman, which has some violin mixed in.
Loners Are Freaks: Justified with Norman, since the whole town, including his father, tend to scorn him for being able to talk to the dead since no one believes it. It's more of a defense mechanism.
Lovable Jock: Mitch is not particularly bright, but he's not mean to anybody.
Prenderghast literally means "ghost catcher" or "ghost holder".
Norman means "northerner" or "north-man". Even before the Norman conquest in the year 1066, it was used to describe outsiders or people who didn't belong or were not natives.
Sandra (the name of Norman's mother) means "defender".
Blithe means to show a casual and cheerful indifference considered to be callous or improper. Considering the town's portrayal of the legend, it's appropriate. (Also recalls Noel Coward's ghost story, Blithe Spirit.)
Agatha means "good". Too bad the other townspeople of her time didn't take that to heart.
Never My Fault: One of the townspeople can be heard saying after the curse is broken to a reporter, "It wasn't my idea, they forced me into it!"
Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: Aggie is just a justifiably angry child throwing the mother of all tantrums. The zombies are just trying to relieve the curse they brought upon themselves through fear and hysteria. Even the angry mob of humans turns out to be not beyond reason.
Novelization: Goes the extra mile from the typical tie-in novel for children and takes the form of a hardcover (with the cover underneath the jacket based on the Prenderghast book featured within the film). It also serves as the manual with some extra details on the characters, such as how Grandma's death affected Norman, the strange circumstances of his birth, the witch trials in Blithe Hollow and other material. Not to mention the character Salma is somewhat of an Ascended Extra in the book, having some more lines and such.
Uncle Prenderghast also destroyed a bathroom. Considering their abilities in life, perhaps the ghosts of mediums have stronger abilities.
Our Zombies Are Different: The Judge and the other zombies are actually a kind of Revenant Zombie. They have intelligence, and they aren't hungry for brains, but like any Revenant, they are driven by a single, burning purpose. In their case, they mean the town no harm at all; they only want to break Agatha's cycle so they may finally rest in peace.
Powered by a Forsaken Child: In a decidedly mundane manner; Agatha's execution is the core of the city's identity and tourism industry. That she's unable to move on, stuck as an angry, hateful ghost, is incidental.
Scenery Porn: Well, it is made by the company that made Coraline, but this one seems to take it Up to Eleven in a multitude of ways.
Schizo Tech: A lot of the scenery and vehicles have a distinct look of being from The Seventies, especially the Babcock's station wagon and Mitch's van. Also, all the TV's are old-style CRT. Nonetheless, even the kids have cell phones and they use the internet to search for information about the witch.
Screaming Woman: The girl in the horror flick Norman watches. She doesn't even have any lines, all she does is shriek in terror.
Justified with Aggie, considering the memory of her has continued into the present day as a complete insulting caricature.
And the fact that the modern townsfolk let blind fear drive their actions, much like her executioners did.
Skewed Priorities: The man who's torn between waiting to get his chips from the vending machine and running in fear from the undead. He eventually does run off only to run BACK, while screaming, to retrieve the chips.
After the credits, a stop-motion video of how Norman's figure was made is shown. He then gets up and walks off screen.
Which is made rather impressive when you consider that the entire 10 second sequence had to have taken over two weeks of taking a picture, nudging a part, taking a picture, nudging a part, taking a picture, nudging a part...
Talking to the Dead: Mr. Prenderghast and Norman have this ability. It apparently runs in the family. Way back in the family.
Then Let Me Be Evil: We see the kind of crap Norman gets put through as a result of his gift. Ultimately, we discover that Agatha Prendergast—the legendary "witch" of Blithe Hollow—was exactly the same: an innocent child who could see the dead, only becoming the monster that the townsfolk feared after they sentenced her to death.
Torches and Pitchforks: The mob at the Town Hall. Parodied when they drop all their weapons - including a bowling ball.
Town with a Dark Secret: Centuries ago, the citizenry of the town condemned and executed a young innocent girl for being a witch. Since then, consciously or not, the town has distorted her memory into a hideous caricature, which makes Agatha more angry with each passing year...
One of Norman's magic-induced flashbacks makes a girlish sob into a Wham Line of epic proportions.
Followed by the witch's crime: "You were speaking to the dead!"
Also this bit.
Mitch: You're gonna love my boyfriend. He's like a total chick-flick nut!
What an Idiot: Invoked in-universe, with the actress in the horror flick Norman is watching in the beginning. A zombie comes towards her and she just stands there screaming. (Her annoyed glance at the camera hints she's not exactly thrilled with this.)
Wide Eyes and Shrunken Irises: realistically done and a really nice touch to The Reveal. When Norman gets a vision of the Blithe Hollow witch trial, he doesn't see the accused, until he hears someone crying from behind him. His eyes narrow in shock◊ and he turns around to see Agatha, the "witch" of Blithe Hollow, is a girl his age.
Witch Hunt: The trope that causes all the trouble in the first place.
Witch Species: Hinted at with certain descendants of Prenderghast blood.
Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The "witch" is an (extremely psychically powerful) little girl who lost it when she was accused and executed.
Would Hurt a Child: The Judge's sentencing of a young girl to be hanged for talking to the dead.
Subverted in that the appearance of the zombies does freak the townspeople out, but they then quickly gather weapons and attack them and the zombies are instantly overwhelmed because they are not strong, numerous, or infectious.
Wonderfully subverted even further in the courthouse scene. The zombies and kids are inside as questing arms burst through the walls and windows, much like in any Romero movie. That's right, LIVING people are breaking down the walls in an attempt to attack the undead.