NOTE: This is a retrospective and analysis and not a review. It will absolutely contain spoilers.

Stephen Sondheim once wrote: “Princes wait there in the world, it’s true; Princes, yes, but wolves and humans, too.”  Humans do terrible things to each other. Especially when they are scared. This is, in essence, the theme of Laila’s 2012 underappreciated Claymation masterpiece, ParaNorman. 

ParaNorman starts with a child named Norman (Kodi Smith-McPhee) watching what appears to be a cheap 80’s zombie/slasher movie with his grandma, who we find out is a ghost. After mentioning talking to his grandmother to his dad (Jeff Garlin), he and his sister (Anna Kendrick) attempt to berate him into becoming more of a typical boy, while his mom (Leslie Mann) tries to get his dad to understand him. 

In school, he is bullied and considered a freak, because of his ability and his inability to hide it. And the small town has made a cottage industry out of shunning those that are abnormal (or paranormal, in Norman’s case). The quaint New England town that the story is set in has something called “the witch’s curse” and said curse has made it a tourist trap celebrating the killing of a witch in puritan times (the best examples are a witch themed casino and a monument outside of city hall). 

Each year, the school performs a “pageant” of sorts celebrating the killing of the witch 300 years ago by the local Puritan town council. It just so happens that Norman plays a pitch-forking townsperson, an extreme embodiment of how everyone in his life treats him. The town’s ethos (group personality) is definitely affected by the “curse” and what supposedly caused it: they are scared of anything they consider abnormal, or paranormal, with Norman definitely fitting the bill. 

It turns out that his uncle, Mr. Pendergast (John Goodman) is Norman’s predecessor in being able to talk to the dead. He’s an unhygienic recluse, likely because of his gift he has. This also reenforces the theme of the film in that he has been ostracized for being have a gift that people don’t understand. He starts approaching Norman to prepare him for the anniversary of the curse and that he needs to take up the responsibility of reading a story to the witch’s grave every year. Norman blows him off because of preconceived notions and because of how aggressive and odd his uncle is. However, when his uncle dies and visits him, he starts to take his uncle a bit more seriously. 

Norman only has one friend, Ned, who also is considered “weird” but in a different way. Ned spends a lot of energy trying to befriend Norman, even when his jock older brother forbids him. Yet Ned is undeterred and even goes with Norman to get the book he needs to read from his uncle’s dead hands, literally. However, Norman is too late: at sunset, the zombies of the dead witch accusers rise from their graves and start pursuing him. 

In an effort to run from the zombies, he finds himself in a group of “normies”: his sister, Ned’s brother (Casey Affleck), and Norman’s main bully named Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Norman, armed with the book decides to try and find the witch’s grave (information that was not imparted by his uncle) and is informed by a classmate that people accused of witchcraft weren’t given normal burials. Which is another exploration of the theme: people who are divergent of the norm are often shunned by society. 

When the puritan zombies show up in town, they try to approach people but never actually do any harm to them. The townspeople react by pulling out their metaphorical pitchforks and try to destroy the zombies just because they are zombies. We’ve seen these people shun or even mock Norman for being different, yet now we find them openly hurting those that are different from them. 

At this point the witch’s caricature is formed in the clouds as she laughs at the townspeople’s treatment of the puritans. Norman ends up trying to read to the green cloud face of the witch from the rooftop of city hall, but lightning strikes where he’s standing and he falls through the roof, revealing the final vision that completes what actually happened in the past. We see a little girl that looks eerily like Norman chained up and on trial. She is accused of witchcraft by because of her ability to speak to the dead, the same exact gift that Norman has. Her name is Agatha Pendergast, which means she is an ancestor of Norman. As he wakes, he sees the head puritan zombie and asks him how he could possibly do that to a little girl. The zombie expresses deep shame and replies that they were wrong and did a terrible thing because they were scared. 

With this revelation we find the true meaning of the witch’s curse: it was to afflict her tormenters with the same sort of ostracizing and shunning that she experienced. Norman then decides to actually talk to the witch instead of reading her a bedtime story to keep her asleep. The head zombie helps him find where Agatha is buried, and Norman tries to reason with her. Agatha’s fury builds in attempting to justify her actions by saying that her bullies deserve what they are getting. Norman responds that in seeking revenge, she has become the bully which finally breaks her out of her rage. 

The scene changes to a sunny day in Agatha’s village with Norman and Agatha (who reveals that her mother called her “Aggie”) where she asks if he wants revenge. He responds, “Sure. But what good would that do?” She cries on his shoulder, and he suggests that there, under a tree, would be good place to sleep, if she wants to. She asks him to stay while she falls asleep in his brotherly embrace. 

We then are treated to a post-apocalypse town where clean-up is happening and people seem to be repentant of their ways, particularly Norman’s family. We end how the film began, with Norman watching television. However, this time it’s not just his grandma watching with him: his whole family is there.