Halloween is over, so it's time to debate the same question we debate every year: when do you watch The Nightmare Before Christmas? The film is about the people of Halloween, so it must be a Halloween movie! But it has Christmas in the title and hinges on Santa, so it's a Christmas movie! The mindless argument has become so rote, so neither sides stop to acknowledge the hard truth. There's a better stop-motion movie to watch between October and December: Paranorman.
From the creators of Coraline
Released in 2012 by Laika, the studio that produced Coraline and the recently overlooked The Boxtrolls, Paranorman is a spooky family film that belongs in the fall like a cotton hoodie and a cup of hot cider. Now, before I get to the plot, I want to win over The Nightmare Before Christmas set, because Santa knows they're a cantankerous bunch.
Paranorman and Nightmare have a good deal in common. The films performed just adequately at the box office, both grossing a little over $50 million in domestic sales, before becoming cult hits on home video. Both have exceptional scores, Nightmare with the work of Danny Elfman and Paranorman with Jon Brion, one of the greatest and most underappreciated musicians in Hollywood. Both are family-friendly with a wit and maturity you don't expect from "kid stuff." And they both, to some degree, split duty between two holidays — Paranorman's puritanical ghouls channel a Thanksgiving vibe with their black wardrobes and capotain hats.
Their key difference, and why I'll go so far to say Paranorman is my preferred movie, is messaging. The Nightmare Before Christmas was adopted early on by the Hot Topic crowd with its angsty hero and heroine, gothic ballads, and mayhem had in good fun. It's ultimately about, well, I don't know really: knowing your place? Asking instead of taking? Knowing when to stay "I love you"? The film is more of a ride than a cohesive story, and this is coming from a man who read the novelization.
Paranorman is the anti-Hot Topic option
Paranorman appears to be a movie about zombies and an evil witch laying siege on a small town, and the oddball boy with the power to see and speak with the dead who saves the day. It's not that. Because the whole point of this piece is to advocate that you see the movie, I won't spoil the story, but I will say this: Laika made a children's film about the bullied not getting revenge, a film about seeing everyone as humans, even when they come after you like monsters. It's the anti-Hot Topic film, the anti-angst, which might explain why none of its merchandise is carried by the store — though the more likely reason is most people have never heard of the film to begin with.
People should watch this movie every year, because it's a good movie with a complex message I rarely see in adult films, let alone kids' fare. And if that's not enough, there's the cast (Anna Kendrick! John Goodman! Casey Affleck! Leslie Mann!), the gorgeous animation, and cheeky opening credit sequence. Plus, Paranorman has one other thing in common with The Nightmare Before Christmas: it's fun to talk about.