“Its John Carpenter meets John Hughes,” he explains. Later he says, “It’s like the characters of The Breakfast Club dropped into The Fog.” After that he notes, “It’s an episode of Scooby Doo directed by Sam Raimi.”
If that doesn’t paint a picture for you, he goes on to explain that “the original idea was, ‘How cool would it be to do a stop-motion zombie movie for kids?’ Just as a concept alone I’m sold.”
In the movie Norman is a young boy with a special supernatural talent. “He’s trying to figure out what his gift means,” says Butler. “He can see and speak to dead people and quite often that is the only intelligent conversation he gets.” His ability doesn’t exactly endear him to his schoolmates, or family for that matter, until a witch’s curse brings a zombie plague to the town. Then everybody wants to hang out with Norman.
“I grew up watching all the movies that I shouldn’t have watched and frankly I think they made me the sophisticated and level headed person I am today,” Butler laughs. Those movies definitely had an influence on me but then the story broadened in scope and became as much about the horror influences as it did about the family movie influences that I grew up watching. It became a love letter to the era of 80s moviemaking that I sorely miss.
The result is an entertaining film with one foot in the supernatural and the other firmly grounded in the reality of kid’s lives.
“I thought it was an interesting approach,” he says. “When you’re 11 years old the kid who lives down the lane, who bullies you everyday, is as real a terror as any kind of fictional monster. It was about juxtaposing the fictional horror of movies and monsters with the real horror of how middle school sucks.”
But is ParaNorman, with its green-faced zombies, too scary for kids?
“I think parents also know their kids,” Butler says. “It’s difficult to come up with a specific age range. Just a couple of days ago someone said their five year old had seen it. Not only did she love it, and wasn’t particularly scared by it, but she also got the quite sophisticated message that is underneath it. Whereas maybe a more timid ten year old may not want to go see it.”