ParaNorman

ParaNorman

The stop-motion animated film ParaNorman celebrated its tenth anniversary around the same time as my wife and I attended Bubonicon in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As it turns out, someone placed a DVD copy of the movie on the convention’s freebie table and my wife picked it up. Somehow, we missed this movie when it was released. It was produced by Laika, the same studio that adapted Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and made Kubo and the Two Strings, both films that have a valued place in our collection. We figured it would be worth watching. In the worst case scenario, we could turn the DVD into our local used bookstore for trade credit.

As it turns out, I spent the first twenty minutes or so of the movie wondering if I would indeed be turning in for trade credit. There was nothing wrong with the film and, as I’ve come to expect from Laika, the animation was brilliant, but the tropes felt just a little too familiar. We had an outcast kid who’s bullied at school. His only friend is the overweight kid with allergies. His dad doesn’t understand him and he has a weird uncle. Still, Norman’s ability to speak with ghosts and the fact that he seemed to live in a little New England town, which seemed a little too obsessed with a legendary witch in its past made me want to see what would happen.

The movie turned a corner for me when the weird uncle dies and makes Norman promise to maintain a ritual, which is supposed to keep the witch’s ghost at bay. Norman proceeds with the plan and discovers the ritual involves reading from a book of fairy tales. What’s more, he doesn’t subdue the ghost, but raises a batch of zombies, who set out for town while the witch’s ghost begins stirring things up. The mystery of what was happening suddenly became much more interesting. Along the way to solving the mystery, we also find that the bully isn’t a simple antagonist. I don’t want to spoil things, but the writing revealed new layers to the character without resorting to the simplistic “misunderstood bad guy” trope. When Norman finally learns the truth behind the witch’s ghost, we meet a character both scarier and more sympathetic than I was expecting.

Western animation tends to be marketed to children and it’s clear the producers of ParaNorman were aware they would have many children in their audience. What I appreciated was that they respected the intelligence of both the kids and the adults in the audience. In a movie where people can become ghosts after they die, the movie gave us no pat answers about what happens when the ghosts “move on.” The parents do their best, but they don’t always do what’s best. They had sly references to both famous horror films and Scooby-Doo. They allowed themselves to engage in some dark humor without feeling like they did anything inappropriate for kids. They also invited us to understand the characters without always insisting that we like those characters. In the end, ParaNorman found its way onto my shelf next to Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings. My only regret is that I hadn’t discovered the film sooner.

Scary Oz

While I’ve been reading through L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels, Zenescope Entertainment released their 2021 Oz Annual featuring their version of the Patchwork Girl. Like Big Dog Ink’s vision of Oz which I mentioned last month, Zenescope has their own take on Baum’s most famous creation. It helps to realize that like many other comic companies Zenescope has their own “multiverse” and many of their stories fit in that world. Oz is one of the magical lands in the Zenescope multiverse. The other lands are Neverland, Wonderland, and Myst. In the center of it all is the Earth we all know and love. In this multiverse, Neverland, Wonderland, and Oz do bear a passing resemblance to their literary counterparts, but they also have distinct differences. In the Zenescope version, Dorothy travels to Oz and ultimately becomes queen of the land. Thorne, the counterpart of the Cowardly Lion, is from a race of lion men. Bartleby is a living scarecrow.

Zenescope’s Patchwork Girl Annual

The 2021 Oz Annual introduces us to the Patchwork Girl. Instead of the happy-go-lucky Scraps of Baum’s novel we meet a witch called Jenny Patch. Long ago she was put on trial for witchcraft. Found guilty, the villagers tried to drown her. Instead of dying, Jenny came back as a living doll, capable of turning others into dolls. Eventually she’s captured and placed into Oz’s Ojo prison. The name is a neat reference to Ojo the Lucky who appeared in the original Patchwork Girl novel. Once she’s in the prison, the people she turned into dolls revert to normal.

Moving forward to the present day, Jenny summons a tornado, which destroys the prison and she escapes with her sidekick, a bug. I don’t recall Zenescope introducing an analog of H.M. Wogglebug T.E. before, so wondered if this was a nod to that character. Not only does Jenny escape, she escapes to Kansas where she unleashes a reign of terror on the townspeople of an unnamed, large town. From the buildings, I’d guess the city is supposed to be Wichita or the Kansas portion of Kansas City.

Dorothy, Toto, Bartleby and Thorne make their way to Kansas and find the Patchwork Girl is creating a whole army of living dolls. So, it’s up to our heroes to stop them. In the Oz novels, it’s stated several times that Oz’s magic doesn’t work outside the fairyland. In this case, the magic has no problem operating in our world, but again, this fits the rules of Zenescope’s multiverse. Overall, I find that Zenescope does a good job with horror action and this comic fits comfortably in that niche. The comic is written by Jenna Lyn Wright, whose work I haven’t encountered before. She seemed to sneak in a few more sly Oz references than I’ve seen in earlier Oz volumes from Zenescope.

Overall, I recommend this for the Oz fan looking for a twisted, scary take on the world. This one is definitely not for younger Oz fans. For those wanting to explore the Zenescope Oz universe you can start with the graphic novels at: https://zenescope.com/collections/tales-from-oz-trade-paperbacks