Topic: PARANORMAN review by Zarban [spoilers; fix]
ParaNorman start out great but ultimately feels a bit hollow. It takes quite a while for the plot to develop, for one thing, and Norman is left guessing as to what he needs to do, which seems frustrating in a kid-oriented film. There are really no clues about the nature of the terrifying events until the end of the second act, which seems too late.
The acting from all parties is quite good, and the animation is really excellent. It's doll animation, and the facial expressions and whatnot are often priceless. There's a moment where monster-movie-obsessed Norman is brushing his teeth that is clearly inspired by Calvin and Hobbes, which just makes me pine for a Calvin and Hobbes movie all the more.
Worse, the message of tolerance is undercut by the central conflict. It's weird.
**SPOILERS from here on out**
Norman and Neil are outsiders who get bullied, so the message is be tolerant of people who are different. After all, they aren't dangerous or anything. The witch, who is revealed to have been a little girl a lot like Norman when alive, was convicted and executed for witchcraft. Awful, right? BUT THEN SHE CURSED EVERYONE FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS AND TERRORIZES THE TOWN IF NOT APPEASED. So this is a world where witchcraft is real and witches really do unleash death and terror on regular people when they get angry, so EXECUTING WITCHES IS THEREFORE MORALLY RIGHT in this world.
I don't accept the argument that "she only cursed them because they convicted her wrongfully". The fact that she, and certainly PAST witches also, can and do curse people when they get angry means that the townsfolk's fear of witchcraft is PERFECTLY SOUND and their laws are quite reasonable.
After all, you have to PRACTICE witchcraft (Norman can, like her, see dead people but he can't do witchcraft), so it's not like being born black; it's like purposely amassing a cache of hand grenades. And then, when you're convicted of possessing illegal weapons (that you, cross your heart, totally were never going to use to blow people up) YOU BLOW PEOPLE UP AS REVENGE. I mean, what did Agatha PLAN to use her witch cursing powers for? Making her garden grow? No, it's for controlling and terrorizing people, as clearly demonstrated in the film.
To be fair, my 10-y-o niece and nephew did not agree with this assessment, because, I suppose, little Agatha seemed innocent in the brief scene where she's on trial. But there's no attempt to explain away WHY she was practicing witchcraft. I can only imagine it's because she is tired of being teased for saying she can see ghosts and wants to hurt the people who bully her.
My fix is simple: Agatha is one of the ghosts Norman sees in town. After he's been bullied, she strikes up a conversation with him, saying "I know what that's like. People were afraid of me, and all I wanted to do was make my garden grow." As they part, she acts sleepy but says, kid-like, "I'm not tired." This establishes her as a character, sets up her back story as a good witch gone wrong and a little girl who can be put to sleep once a year with a bedtime story. In the end, she apologizes for her "tantrum" and makes the town blossom.
Zarban's House of Commentaries