Reel Reviews

‘ParaNorman’

Audience:
A-III – adults

 

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Kids animation barely suitable for adults

Though the horror-themed animated adventure “ParaNorman” (Focus) is obviously directed at children, it includes a smattering of sexual humor and, more significantly, a concluding plot twist that ought to put parents of faith on their guard. That’s unfortunate since co-directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler’s frequently witty stop-motion celebration of the macabre has a basic message to convey that’s valuable for adults and kids alike.

The story focuses on Norman Babcock (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee), an 11-year-old boy whose ability to communicate with ghosts – principally his beloved Grandma (voice of Elaine Stritch) but also deceased strangers whom he passes in the street – has caused him to be shunned and bullied by his unbelieving peers.

Things only get more complicated for Norman when his eccentric great-uncle Mr. Prenderghast (voice of John Goodman) calls on him to save their Salem-like hometown from the apocalyptic curse of an 18th-century witch (voice of Jodelle Ferland).

Soon Norman is battling the enraged spirit of the falsely accused sorceress, as well as the zombielike specters of the puritan judges who condemned her, through all manner of spooky environments. He’s helped along the way, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, by his tubby best friend and fellow outcast Neil (voice of Tucker Albrizzi), his cheerleader sister Courtney (voice of Anna Kendrick), school quarterback (and Neil’s older brother) Mitch (voice of Casey Affleck), and even by reformed bully Alvin (voice of Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who has been scared straight by the sight of the sprites.

What Norman’s quest principally teaches us is that evil acts are often motivated by fear and that the vengeful desire to retaliate in kind only makes things worse. Needless to say, that’s an outlook that squares completely with Judeo-Christian values, but there are too many other negative notes to this story.

Butler’s screenplay, however, which dabbles in sexual humor throughout, concludes with the ironic revelation that a seemingly he-man male character has a boyfriend. However brief and however humorously intended, the scene nonetheless clearly sends a signal that such a relationship ought to be as nonchalantly accepted as it is matter-of-factly announced. As such, it is grievously out of place in a film directed at children.

The film contains acceptance of homosexual acts, some sexual and scatological jokes and potentially frightening scenes of peril. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

By John Mulderig Catholic News Service

‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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Wiccan imagery mars message of likeable film

The first thing to understand about “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” (Disney) is that, despite its genuinely wholesome approach, its themes of infertility and death make it unsuitable for younger children.

The film strains not to offend. But even older children may find parts of this fable – in which the enchanted 10-year-old boy of the title (C.J. Adams) passes through life leading others by cheerfulness and good example – somewhat puzzling.

Let’s put it this way: This film has “Discuss it with your child afterward” written into nearly every scene. There’s nothing contrary to, or derogatory of, Christian faith. But there’s a mishmash of imagery, since the original story by Ahmet Zappa draws on both Christian and wiccan beliefs – a little too heavily on the wiccan, it must be said, for the comfort of many viewers of faith.

However, there’s no indoctrination going on. There’s just a lot to think about. And, on the upside, from start to finish, the story celebrates familial love.

Opening scenes show Jim and Cindy Green (Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner) at an adoption agency explaining why they’re qualified to become parents. To do so, they first have to explain what has just happened to them, which is where Timothy Green comes in.

Deeply saddened to learn they were infertile, the Greens wrote down all of their ideas about what the perfect child ought to be: Honest to a fault, able to love and be loved, possessing a lively sense of humor, and so on. They then buried the notes in a wooden box in their backyard garden.

That night, there was a heavy rainstorm, and the next morning, the couple discovered a precocious, dirt-covered naked boy, freshly sprung from their garden, exploring their house.

He’s just what they hoped to have, except that he has what looks like vine leaves on his shins. (This is the wiccan imagery.) These leaves cannot be cut off. No problem there: They simply advise him to keep his socks on at all times. And they begin the process of becoming involved and dedicated parents.

Timothy is extremely kind, very patient, very much an outsider among other children and endures suffering in a Christ-like way (thus the Christian analogy).
He is smitten with Joni Jerome (Odeya Rush), a slightly older girl who also feels like an outsider because of a large birthmark. Together, they construct a sort of chapel in the woods with “stained glass” made from colorful autumn leaves. (This is the mixed aspect).

Later on, in classic Hollywood style, Timothy comes up with a way to keep the town’s pencil factory – at which his father is a foreman – from closing.

It’s not a spoiler to disclose that, with the arrival of autumn, Timothy finds that his leaves are deciduous, and knows his time is drawing short. Yet it’s made clear that his life has had a purpose.

Writer-director Peter Hedges has a little trouble keeping his sentimental tale on an even keel. The uplifting, break-out-the-hankies ending, though, is likely to appeal to anyone who enjoys a good cry.

The film contains mature themes, some pagan overtones and a single scatological reference. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

By Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service