It's nice when you come across a kids movie that doesn't treat kids like they are idiots. A follow up to the same studio's 'Coraline', they were quickly getting a reputation around this time for kids movies that were a lot darker than anything you would get out of other kids movies, and honestly even darker than anything you'd seen from Disney, including the Mufasa scene from Lion King.
Norman is a young boy who can talk to ghosts. No one else can see them or hear them, but Norman just kind of goes about his day talking to them on his way to school. The initial bit has some pretty funny jokes and sets up the tone very well. You get to see Norman having some fun and making some cheesy jokes with the ghosts, only for the regular folks of town to see him and avoid him like he's kind of crazy. As no one believes he sees ghosts, he becomes alienated from the rest of society and regularly bullied.
This is where the show first starts to shine, every character is lively and fantastic. There is a consistent logic to how everyone in the show acts, and it all works well within the themes of the show. Yes, some characters indeed do things that wouldn't happen in the real world, but because the show does so well at following it's internal logic it never breaks immersion. Yes, no matter how much the girl wants to get the attention of a guy she likes you will probably never see her actively taking advantage of this in the middle of a potential Zombie Apocalypse. But it fit's the characters, and honestly the joke is pretty funny with how well it's done.
Paranorman is a great example of being a comedy that you can easily take seriously. The jokes rarely let up, though during important moments they do, but never is there something so silly or ridiculous that happens in the show that it takes away from your ability to care about the story. A big part of that is how easy it can be to relate to Norman. Despite his abilities being supernatural, most people have something about themselves that is a bit out of the normal compared to most people. It can feel a bit weird at times bringing it up, sometimes you feel like you may be judged for bringing it up. Most of the time it's something small and not a big deal, and other times it may be a pretty huge deal. Just look back to the 90's and see how things like Video Games and Dungeons and Dragons were treated by the mainstream media, and you could see why people would be reticent to bring that up in public. It's a very easy thing to understand and relate too, but brought up to a much more cinematic degree.
I love when Norman finally meets his Uncle, who he learned has the same abilities. Isolated for so long, however, Normans Uncle pretty much has gone crazy, and it kind of shows what the potential end result for Norman is, at least if things stay the way they are. Despite the very short time the Uncle is in the story, his image creates a kind of bleak future.
All that said, his main point in a narrative sense is getting the plot started by telling Norman only he can put the witch to sleep, as only he can speak with the dead once the Uncle passes (Which happens early in the movie). The Witch is built up as a kind of local legend, and was said to be killed by the townsfolk and has cursed the town in her death. You get Norman regularly getting flashbacks to the past, presumably around the time of the Witch. It's not long before you start to see Zombies rise from the ground, and Norman finally believes his Uncles words, and he sets out to stop the curse and put the Witch to sleep.
See, the first thing I love is it doesn't put all the blame on the people Ostracizing Norman. Too a degree, his response to people and just shutting everyone out, doing little to allow in even the few people who want to be there for him, is just as much of a problem. I love when a show does such a great job at painting all sides in a less than positive light, as in reality that is usually how most problems come about, blame is almost always on more than one party. But that's not what wins me over about this show, as wonderful as it all is.
While at first the main theme of the show is a pretty simple 'Don't Judge a Book By It's Cover' kind of thing, there is something much more prominent. What a person is capable of when they are afraid. There is a wonderful moment I don't want to spoil involving the flashbacks, so I won't spoil that, but something you may expect to happen is when the Zombies appear everyone blames Norman. While there may be a surface level reason to suspect him, given it's pretty commonly known he thinks he can talk to dead people, but people end up turning on the one who can help them. Norman himself acts out in fear and nearly ruins everything, even the subject of everyone else fear isn't free from acting rashly or irrationally for the same reason.
The moment I don't want to spoil is probably the one that just cements this theme, and does showcase a group of people doing something truly heinous. It's not out of hate, it's out of fear and a desire to protect. I will say that it hit me harder emotionally than almost any other moment in any kind of entertainment. I may never have cried at a movie, but it's one of a handful of moments that got me close.
This is all backed up but some wonderful visuals. The character designs are great, the various ghosts you see are creative, and the atmosphere can become very dark and foreboding when it needs to be. The show is aesthetically wonderful in pretty much every way, so even if you are only there for a visual experience of all time.
Paranorman is probably my favorite children's movie of all time, beating out anything released even by Disney at their best. As a kids movie it doesn't treat it's audience like they can't handle mature themes and doesn't treat them like idiots, it's genuinely creative and interesting even for an older audience, and it has emotional moments that rival any other medium. It's not just my favorite animated or children's movie, it's among my favorite movies of all time. No matter who you are, the movie is worth checking out.