Story

Norman Babcock (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an outcast with a special gift – he can see and speak to dead people, including his grandmother (voice of Elaine Stritch) and many other ghosts that roam the town’s streets. But no-one believes that Norman can do this. His family ridicules him, and his peers at school bully him. Alvin (voice of Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is the worst of the bullies. Norman does have one friend and believer, Neil (voice of Tucker Albrizzi). Neil is overweight and strange in his own way, and Alvin also bullies him.

One day life suddenly gets even more complicated for Norman. He’s approached by his estranged uncle, Mr Prenderghast (voice of John Goodman), who can also see and speak to the dead. Mr Prenderghast tells Norman that the town is in great danger from a curse cast by a witch, who was condemned and put to death by the town’s inhabitants over 300 years ago. For the town to be saved, Norman must do a ritual. This involves reading a passage from a special book over the witch’s grave at sundown on a particular night once each year. Norman really wants to save the town so he tries to do the ritual, but things don’t go to plan. The ritual is botched, and a host of zombies rise from the grave to wreak havoc on the town’s inhabitants.

Norman must find a way to stop the zombies. Together with some new and unexpected friends including his sister Courtney (voice of Anna Kendrick), Neil’s brother Mitch (voice of Casey Affleck) and Alvin, Norman discovers the terrible truth behind the town’s curse and works to set things right.

Themes

The supernatural; ghosts and zombies; bullying

Violence

ParaNorman has some macabre animated violence, most of which is played for laughs in an over-the-top slapstick way. The movie also has some scenes that show intense danger, verbal arguments between Norman’s parents that concern Norman, the persecution of a young girl and school bullying.

Here are some examples:

  • Norman watches a B-grade movie on TV, which shows cartoonish images of a woman being chased by a zombie. The woman steps on a brain lying on the floor (the brain has had a bite taken out of it). Then a zombie crashes through the door and chases her. Norman says to his grandmother, ‘The zombie’s eating her head’. There are sounds of crunching bones coming from the TV.
  • At school Norman and Neil are the victims of intolerance and bullying. Bullies push Norman to the ground and write the word ‘Freak’ on his locker. They write ‘Fatty’ on Neil’s locker. Norman’s peers call him names such as ‘Ghost Jerky’ and ‘Goober’. A bully repeatedly threatens to ‘get’ Norman. A bully threatens to punch Neil in his ‘boobs’ and then punches Neil in the chest.
  • In one comic scene, Norman tries to wrench a book from a dead man’s hands. The dead man refuses to let go of the book. The struggle results in the body being tossed around the room and its head being bashed against a table several times. Eventually the corpse lands on top of Norman, and its long tongue flops out to cover the side of his face.
  • In scenes played for laughs, zombie body parts keep dropping off. A zombie’s head comes off when he’s hit by a car, and a young man kicks the head like a football. One zombie has a gaping hole through its midsection after being shot in the stomach.
  • In one humorous scene, a van containing terrified teenagers speeds along a country road with a zombie hanging onto the back. The zombie punches his hand through the roof of the van and grabs Neil by the neck. A policewoman on a mini-bike crashes into the van and tries to run it off the road. After several attempts the policewoman flies over the bonnet of the van, and the van rolls down an embankment. No-one is hurt.
  • In one scene showing mob rioting and violence against zombies, a woman with a shotgun says, ‘Kill them’ and ‘Unleash the dogs of war – let’s rip them apart’. Angry townspeople carrying clubs, brooms, rakes and flaming torches chase, shoot and bash zombies. A young girl throws a flaming teddy bear through the window of the town hall to burn the zombies out. Norman and his friends are in the town hall at the same time but get away unhurt.
  • In one upsetting scene, Norman tells an 11-year-old girl ghost that she’s a bully because she wants revenge against those who hanged her for being a witch. The girl cries.

Content that may disturb children

Under 5

In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five years. For example:

  • Norman talks to several ghosts including his dead grandmother, with whom he has extended discussions. The ghosts appear as transparent, misty figures surrounded by a green vapour. Some ghosts look like they’ve died violently.
  • During a performance of a school play, Norman has a vision. In the vision, the ceiling and walls of the stage disintegrate and change into a dark forest. Trees become animated and grow pointed teeth and long skeletal fingers that grab at Norman. Students standing around Norman change into rotting corpses. They tell Norman to stop the witch’s curse. Norman jumps from the stage and shouts, ‘The dead are coming’.
  • The ghost of Mr Prenderghast comes up out of a toilet and talks to Norman, warning him that the town is in danger from a witch’s curse.
  • Norman climbs to the top of a tower and gets hit in the chest by lightning. He is saved by a book he’s holding against his chest.
  • One scene shows Norman stumbling down a creepy forest tunnel. He ends up in a circle of ancient tombstones. Large menacing storm clouds appear overhead, and wisps of cloud and lightning that look like witch arms and hands fork out of the clouds and plunge into the ground around the tombstones. The ground erupts, and corpse-like hands and arms break through the surface. They belong to green-skinned, rotting zombies. The zombies’ rotting flesh exposes their ribcages. One has its jawbone hanging on by a thin thread of flesh.
  • Lightning bolts engulf a tree where a young girl was hanged 300 years earlier, and the ghost-like image of the girl rises out of the tree. Norman argues with the ghost girl, who sends out lightning bolts that hit him. Norman isn’t hurt. The ghost girl splits into four images that swirl around Norman like a tornado. The ghost girl’s image distorts and becomes more frightening, showing a mouth full of long, sharp teeth. 

From 5-8

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the scenes mentioned above. 

From 8-13

Children in this age group might also be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above. 

Over 13

This movie should be OK for this age group. 

Sexual references

ParaNorman has occasional low-level, implied sexual references. For example:

  • When Norman’s father asks him what he’s watching on TV, Norman says, ‘Sex and violence’.
  • Norman says that his sister keeps a picture of a teenage football player with his shirt off in her underwear drawer.
  • After a teenage girl asks a boy out on a date, the boy says, ‘You’re going to love my boyfriend – he’s a chick flick nut’. 

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

This movie has occasional suggestions of substance use. For example:

  • Norman’s uncle stands in front of a table with lots of differently coloured pills. He grabs several pills, throws them into his mouth and swallows them.
  • There is a brief image of a couple who seem to be drunk – they’re staggering and wobbling.
  • Characters drink socially. 

Nudity and sexual activity

This movie has some cartoonish, over-the-top sensuality. For example:

  • Several female characters wear tight-fitting clothes and have exaggerated breasts and bottoms.
  • A young boy leers at a picture of an aerobics instructor, who is bending over and wearing brief shorts.
  • One scene shows a well-built teenage boy with a bare chest and a towel wrapped around his waist. A teenage girl flirts with the boy and puts her hand on his bare chest. 

Product placement

This movie shows some tattoos. 

Coarse language

This movie has some low-level coarse language, name-calling and put-downs, as well as some crude humour that children might copy. 

Ideas to discuss with your children

ParaNorman is an animated comedy horror movie aimed at older children and teenagers. The movie was written and co-directed by Chris Butler, who was involved in the making of Coraline and Corpse Bride, and it has a similar feel. The violence and scary scenes make it unsuitable for children under 10 years, but older children will enjoy the humour. They’ll also be able to relate to the movie’s content, particularly the sometimes awkward interactions between teenagers.

The main message from this movie is that bullying causes victims to become bullies themselves. The way to combat bullying is to reject the bully’s anger. Don’t let the anger infect you, but try to be kind to other people instead.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include the following:

  • Diversity: Norman is unique and different from his peers. This difference isolates Norman but also gives him unique strength and the ability to save other people’s lives.
  • Friendship: Neil keeps trying to be Norman’s friend, which shows Norman the value of friendship and helps Norman develop new strengths.

This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues. For example, Norman’s friend Neil believes that bullying can’t be stopped because it’s human nature. You and your children could talk about:

  • how bullying hurts people in real life
  • how hard it is to stand up to bullying
  • how Neil’s attitude towards bullying makes the problem worse
  • how you can stand up to bullying at school in a safe way.