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Presenting the NATO of CA/NV 2017 Scholarship Winners...

Animation is a powerful aspect of the film industry that I hold in high regards. In the words of Blake Senftner, a scientist, “Animation is probably the most versatile, and therefore, most powerful tool one can use to communicate abstract, delicate, nuanced, complex, and multidisciplinary concepts to others.” Because animation is such a visual medium that does not rely heavily on dialogue, it breaks down language barriers and is able to get stories and messages across in a way that anyone, regardless of their background, is able to comprehend and enjoy. In August of 2012, Laika Entertainment released Paranorman: a stop-motion animated movie about a young boy with the ability to speak to ghosts suddenly faced with the responsibility of saving his small town from a zombie-filled curse. This endearing film aimed towards a younger demographic may appear to just be a fun, family-friendly comedy but upon closer examination, it is a thematically heavy social commentary that is incredibly impactful. Through the dynamic characters and engaging plot, this film tackles the topic of prejudice and addresses the negative effects of stereotypes and fear. It’s a story with a timeless lesson that everyone in the world could learn from.

Not being afraid of someone just because they’re different from you is the most prominent theme found throughout the film Paranorman. The setting itself is just one example of how this movie ties this universal theme into the story in a subtle but clever way. Based off of Salem, Massachusetts, the story takes place in the fictionalized town of Blithe Hollow. The Salem Witch trials mark a time in which fear and uncertainty about the unknown clouded people’s judgements and caused them to make irrational decisions that ultimately cost innocent lives. Paranorman’s plot mirrors this mob mentality of a scared and foolish community. By connecting this film to a notable period in history, it grounds the story’s message and acts as a warning to its viewers that “witch hunts” have happened before and will keep harming the innocent if society continues to disregard their own kind based off of discrimination.

The main protagonist is Norman, an 11 year old boy who is a victim of prejudice. He is ridiculed and, on a deeper level, feared by members of his community because he claims to have paranormal abilities that go against the social norm. A social outcast who’s disregarded by the living, Norman spends most of his days talking to the dead. His character represents marginalized people who also feel cast away by society because of aspects of their lives they can’t control that marks them as “different”. Unfortunately, this is a universal issue that stems from human’s innate fear of what they don’t know or understand. In the words of Norman himself, “Sometimes when people get scared, they say and do terrible things”. Although fear is an emotion everyone is entitled to feel, Paranorman tries to educate its viewers by stating it’s okay to be afraid as long as you don’t let it cloud your judgement and, in the words of Norman’s grandmother, “change who you are”. This is a powerful message that can be applicable to people of all ages, genders, religious backgrounds, sexual orientations, and nationalities.

Although a more minor aspect of this movie, Paranorman also tries to combat the idea of labeling people based on stereotypes. The five main characters all represent a general stereotype and the film attempts to challenge these ideas of labels by having all of the characters prove that they are more than what meets the eye. The “jock”, for example, is initially portrayed as the classic meathead that is later revealed to be gay. This small but notable addition to the story further advances Paranorman’s subtle yet clever way of driving the themes of acceptance and not judging people based on shallow characteristics.

In a world still plagued with discrimination and filled with entire countries separated by political and religious differences, the movie Paranorman reminds its viewers that everyone, no matter how different, should be viewed for who they are and not who they’re perceived to be.

 

 

 

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