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Paranorman (2012) Review: The Problems With Paranorman.
'Paranorman' is a stop motion animated feature film. Although its categorized as a horror, it is a children's film, so while there are horrific themes, there are also humerus, light-hearted moments. It has many redeeming features, the characters are like-able and believable, the visuals are fantastic and the animation really echoes the fact that this is, at heart, a scary film.
While I agree the film was enjoyable and unique, there's an underlying theme that has been shrouded in myth and fantasy. One that to this day has been ignored and spun as a legend to be told through plays, poems, fairy tales and ghost stories. That is, the witch trials that plagued the world and turned on half of the population.
One Boy Has to Save a Village!
The story in itself is unique to children's animations. They usually do contain scary and horrific moments, such as Sleeping Beauty fighting the Witch at the end, Toy Story 3 where the toys are all facing imminent death at the hands of a massive incinerator. IN saying that, its only in recent years that children's horror films have been coming out, to much success. With Tim Burton films, Coraline and Paranorman, children's animations have been developed to the point where fear and laughter almost coincide.
Norman is an 11 year old, who from the very first introduction, we know is special. He can see and interact with ghosts. Most children would, undoubtedly, hide under the bed, hell, most adults would do the same. Not Norman though, who has accepted his gift as something beautiful. He greets the spirits of the dead as he walks through town and sits watching horror films while his dead grandmother sits knitting. He is, unquestionably, a brave young boy. The stigma that surrounds him, of being the weird kid who can see dead people, follows him to school, where we see even the stereotypical nerds steer clear of him, but worse, his home is immersed with the very same thoughts, from his parents and his sister. Misunderstood, alone and literally surrounded by his 'problem' (as perceived by the rest of society), he has nowhere to run.
He lives in a town where a famous witch was convicted and hung by the townspeople. in return the witch placed a curse on the town. The town lives off of the legend, with witchcraft paraphernalia, shop names made from clumsy puns (hung and buried-not sure if this is a shop, cafe, or funeral parlour) and silhouettes of witches on broomsticks as the logo for nearly establishment, along with a giant statue of the witch that was hung placed firmly in the town center, as a reminder of the massive accomplishment.
When Norman bumps into his estranged uncle (he could see ghosts too, so naturally the family wanted him out of their lives, a glimpse at how future Norman would be treated) he is told that he has to protect the town. His uncle dies soon after, and goes to see Norman to tell him he must read from the book his lifeless body is clutching before the sun sets at the grave of the witch in order to save the town from the curse.
Norman sets out to find the book, when he does he goes to the graves of the seven victims of the witches curse (the seven people who accused her of witchcraft, and were subsequently turned to zombies, destined to awake once every year and wreak havoc on the town). Unfortunately, his reading doesn't work, he thinks he has the wrong book, as it's a story book for children. Suddenly the seven Zombies break free of their graves. It is up to Norman, and his merry band of misfit friends, (ie: bully, sister, actual friend and actual friends brother who is also a love interest of Normans sister) to save the town and get rid of the curse once and for all, rather than pacify for a year at a time.
Seven VICTIMS of the Witches Curse
Where are all the Women at?
While this is a film totally centered on what's portrayed as a bratty young girl who doesn't want to stay in her room after she got in trouble, there is an abundance of diverse male characters. The women however, are not so diverse. Other than the Witch/young girl, there are literally three women:
Normans Mother: Ever passive, quiet and shy she rarely speaks up at her husbands ignorance and even defends him when he outright insults Norman.
His sister: Bitchy! Always on the phone, doing her nails, calling her brother names and doing very 'Girl' (I write begrudgingly) things. She is boy crazy, only wanting to look for Norman after she meets a handsome young boy. The epitome of the teenage girl in stereotypical standards.
And the geek: Also kind of Bitchy, would you believe. She is obviously smart, does her homework on time and gets great marks in school, but to Norman (and possibly everyone) she seems like she doesn't give a crap, sighing a lot, rolling her eyes....just not a very nice Person.
That's the entire portrayal of female characters in the film. A bratty child, a submissive, a bitchy teen, and a somehow-better-than-everyone-else-cause-she's-smart nerd. And yet in the male category:
openly gay guy
chubby kid who knows but doesn't let it bother him
Father with a lot on his plate (that's sarcasm, but totally the way he was portrayed)
the eccentric uncle totally at peace with his different ability.
and the zombies-super sorry for what they did....but they were scared!
So What's Wrong with Paranorman?
Actually, quite a lot. What nearly everybody seems to forget, or ignore, is the fact that witch trials were very much a reality, the witchcraft they were accused of, was not. And yet, we have films released on a yearly basis based on stories of Salem, the burning of women and witchcraft in general. Examples include The Blair Witch Project, The Wickerman and Hocus Pocus. What each of these, and Paranaorman perpetuate is the idea that the woman and few men that were convicted of witchcraft and burned or hung were worshippers of the devil, and were rightfully punished for their wicked crimes. None of these films even entertain the notion that these were innocent people. as even the witch in Paranorman proves the town right by cursing them. In reality the Witch trials were a result of misogyny, and sexist attitudes towards women. The fear was not that they were in league with the Devil, rather, it was the fear that Women were as evil as the devil.
Women have been the very epitome of evil for most of history. Largely blamed for the fall of man (In the West it was through Adam and Eve, in Greek Mythology it was the story of Pandora who brought about the fall of man) women were ostracized and treated with contempt in nearly every civilization to date (save for a few like the Celts and Spartans, see A History of Misogyny: The Worlds Oldest Prejudice). Only after the creation of Christianity did it take a different form. Women were established as Evil by God himself, the divine authority over everything.
Of course the most blatant act of defying God would obviously be that of copulating with the devil, something nearly all accused witches were convicted of. It didn't help the cause that some even admitted to it, not just that, but also that it was ten times better than with any relations with a man. These admissions were usually after hours of gruelling torture and sleep deprivation. Many of the accused knew that they would be killed, whether the accusations were proved or not, so by all means, I admit, I probably would have said the same thing!
So, millions of people (nearly 90% of which were women) were publicly burned, hung and tortured for such crazy accusations as stealing men's members and hiding them in tree nests (hand on heart, look it up!), copulating with the devil or monsters, causing miscarriages in women and putting evil curses on people. Paranorman maintains this belief by showing us that the townspeople were right about the witch, who turns out to be a young girl capable of seeing ghosts. After she is sentenced to death, she curses the town as she morphs into a foggy shadow with misty green eyes, almost a force of nature itself. My opinion on why she was a young girl who could see ghosts, and was killed for it, while the two male characters in the story who could also see ghosts were simply called names, it could simply be a case of reflecting modern attitudes to the occult compared to historical attitudes. But, the fact that only two male characters had the ability and were therefor the chosen ones given authority over the witch, is another apt reflection of misogyny.
A Child in a Witches Body
Breaking the Cycle
Up until the moment the Norman was told about the book, everyone that came before him who had the same responsibility of reading the fairy tale book every year, in order to keep the witch/young girl asleep, did the exact same thing, read to her. After Norman fails in this task he realizes that keeping her asleep is not the answer, it just prolongs the inevitable, he needed to find a way of talking to her. Without giving too much away, he achieves what nobody before him thought possible, because he chose to think differently to everyone else. "Nothing gets better, its not enough' (Norman). This was one of the most like-able aspects of the movie, proving that if you listen to what everyone tells you, and worse, believe what everyone tells you, you wont get far, but thinking on your own, out of the box and with good intentions brings about results.
With that being said, I personally am tired at this myth that everything that happened during the witch trials was for good reason, the truth is, it wasn't. It was neighbors who had a grudge, people who simply wanted to see others hurt, and people who wanted women to know their place in the home. A promiscuous woman was thought of as a worshiper of the devil, another sign that the mass murder was nothing but anti-female propaganda. It is a telling sign that the young girl in Paranorman was 11, just before the age of puberty, where she would have realized her sexuality. She was stopped by people who were afraid of her becoming a woman. In hanging her, her innocence (sexual innocence) was kept in tact, and she sleeps, forever young and childlike, under a tree.
As a result of the ignorance of the film, I'm left wondering whether or not anybody is going to portray a story based on the witch trials for what they actually were. Or whether people still believe that some part of what happened is not based on myth, that the acts were somehow justified. We have the opportunity to put the story of the burning of witches straight, that making these actions famous for the wrong reasons is a disrespect in itself, and that maintaining the thought that women were burned because they were somehow inherently evil is simply wrong. The main reasons for the witch trials have been said to have started because 'Without proof of a devil, there can be no proof of god'. After the Back death, which killed millions of people and left the world a darker, more pessimistic place, Earth and all its people needed a savior more than ever. But in doing so, had to prove that God existed through the proof that the devil too existed. To do this, accusations of devil worshipping and curses needed to be shown as reality. Witnesses were used to testify to seeing neighbors copulate with tentacled demons, and before you know it, around the globe, people were now afraid of the Devil, and not worried about the plagues or death that their own God could summon forth.
This needs to be acknowledged more by the film industry, which has the potential to portray history unbiased and true to children, so that they don't grow up with a false sense of history and ignorant to what actually happened.
Norman Faces his Fears....
The Seven Victims:
This wouldn't be an adequate evaluation of this film without analyzing the Seven Victims of the Witches Curse. The original seven people who accused and prosecuted the young girl. Throughout the film they have many different roles. At first it is when we see them rising from their graves, scary ugly and with the usual zombie drone. Sometime after they make their way to the town, where everybody notices them and proceeds to try to kill them, re-kill them?
After, they speak to Norman where they tell him that they killed the girl out of fear, and that the curse on them is that they will be hunted by the townspeople as punishment. This entire scene is made to elicit sympathy for these people, they speak like normal people, showing us that they and the audience are alike, all people who get scared and act irrationally. However, the people that are guilty of these crimes were not acting out of pure fear, they were acting out a divine punishment for those who didn't meet the societal standards of the time. They were acting rationally in their minds, see evil, extinguish evil. The seven are also considered victims, when the young girl should rightly have had that title. The seven were instead victims of their own discriminatory actions. Prejudice was their crime and they paid the price for it. In the end they were forgiven, and their spirits float away in nothingness, when Personally, I felt they should have been stuck in those decaying bodies and been punished for eternity, but this is a kids film.
Kind of obvious but I'l give a quick summery:
While its a great film, visually, artistically and entertaining, there is no need to perpetuate the idea that women and young girls who were tortured, and burned as part of a public spectacle were evil in reality and deserved what they got. Paranorman could have redeemed itself with a slightly different story line, of maybe trying to help the spirit of one of these young girls who were burned and help her rest peacefully, but no, they went with:
She was evil, she was killed, she placed a curse that still haunts the town, she rises every year unless someone reads bedtime stories, she wreaks havoc if not read the stories because-Oh yeah, shes totally evil.
© 2014 belleart