"I have cheered the un-cheerable, Norman. And I'm not letting you give up now."
-Norman's sister, Courtney
Maybe my expectations were all wrong. When it comes to animated features, I expect something like Monsters, Inc. or Up or Rango—a story with the necessary challenges and conflict to give traction, but something that's actually fun to watch. After the first forty-five minutes of ParaNorman, I turned to Scott and asked, "Is it just me, or is this utterly dreary?" He also found it dispiriting (so to speak).
At that point in the film, Norman—because he sees and chats with dead people—was rejected by his family, bullied at school, and deeply depressed, but hadn't even started dealing with the zombies yet.
Is it a story about witches? Zombies? Old curses that impact an entire town? A boy persecuted for a special gift? Zany humor in the midst of madcap chases? It tries to be all of those without ever establishing a clear direction. Despite the positive outcome, the end does not justify ParaNorman's circuitous and cheerless means.