Norman, the boy at the center of this film, sees ghosts all around him. He’s like the Haley Joel Osment character in The Sixth Sense, except here he’s animated and the film is about how he must save the world from a witch wrongly executed two hundred years before. There’s nothing remarkable about Paranorman (dir. Chris Butler, Sam Fell, 2012), but it’s entertaining. Norman has clueless parents—his father is particularly irritated about his son’s psychic abilities—a sister who can’t stand him, a clumsy pudgy friend, and he’s bullied at school. Various hijinks and adventures, a buildup to the appearance of the witch, and her defeat (by Norman, of course). It’s really just a hi-tech Scooby-Doo episode.
I’m not a child, of course. But how do children feel about this little boy surrounded by the ghosts of dead people? How do they feel about the implication—that ghosts surround them as well? I don’t believe in ghosts. Nonetheless, the idea of them bothers me, especially when I’m in a dark house late at night, or when the floors creak, or some uncanny sound comes out of the woods. I can’t quite reason myself out of apprehensions of the unreal. But at the age of 8 or so, the age towards which this film is aimed, I would have been traumatized by this film or its adult ancestors such as The Sixth Sense and the Paranormal Activities series. Such films both animated and live action inundate today’s entertainment industry, and numerous 8 year olds are watching. Do films like these desensitize their viewers about the supernatural, death, and violence, or do they simply suggest that illogic and nonsense are not that foreign to begin with? Everything in Paranorman is intended for children—everything comes out right. No dogs or people are harmed. But the more adult versions of films like these—films that obsess over violence and horror and random suffering—what about them?