As the DVD, Blu-Ray, and Ultraviolet versions of ParaNorman today hit stores and computers (and iPhones, if you get pocketBLU), we talked with animation's hottest dream team — gay writer/director Chris Butler and his (not gay) co-creator, director Sam Fell — about their smash animated film. They also touch on The Breakfast Club, stop-motion animation, and their so-called gay agenda. And all of that means there are spoilers for those of you who haven't seen the story of a bullied kid, a pack of zombies, an ancient curse, and a gay jock.
The Advocate: I believe that ParaNorman is the first mainstream animated film with a main character who is gay. I loved that it was a punch line, but not at Mitch’s expense.
Butler: Yes, I believe it is. It was important to us. We were telling a story that was fundamentally about intolerance. We believed that it was important to have the strength of our convictions. And yes, we played it off as a punch line to a joke. But in a sense, that made it all the more potent, I think, because Mitch is just an ordinary guy — and what I wanted to do with the script throughout the story was, first of all, to turn preconceptions on their head. But also, every character in the movie is judging someone else, good and bad, usually misjudging, and I wanted to make the audience complicit in that. You think you know that a zombie is going to want to eat your brain, you think that this dumb jock is straight. Actually, you don’t know everything just by looking at them. That was important to me. And also, I thought it was a funny joke.
The film was sort of the perfect animated film for our time because it tackles bullying and tolerance and all these things without hitting us over the head with it. It’s this really kid-friendly horror story.
Fell: It’s actually an important thing in a film, not to say it too loud or not let the message overpower the film or muddy the entertainment value, if you want. People don’t want to be preached at; they want to be entertained. But we believe you can do both — and if you can do that, then you’re on to a good thing, I think.
Butler: I always think there’s something very healthy about irreverence, particularly, a lot of the movies and TV shows that inspired this from my youth, were family movies. But they went a little further. They weren’t afraid of challenging subject matter. If you look at The Goonies or E.T., something as simple as family dynamics — they weren’t afraid to show dysfunctional families. Perry and Sandra are not the most perfect parents in ParaNorman. But in a sense, that was important to us. It’s relatable. They’re kind of crappy parents. They’re no less loving but they make mistakes. Every kid knows what it sounds like to hear their parents argue. That makes it real. I personally don’t believe you should polish all that away from children’s fiction, because you’re not actually making it relatable to the real world.
Fell: It’s strange, isn’t it, to have films that are just so far behind the current times. Mainstream entertainment is often five years behind the reality, and that’s a strange thing.
When I was watching ParaNorman, I was getting a little bit of a Stand By Me vibe.
Butler: Yeah! There ya go, that’s it.
I was sort of wondering if you thought kid’s movies were a little riskier in the '80s.
Fell: They were, they definitely were, absolutely. Another thing about Stand By Me, and also The Breakfast Club — those movies were just about character. A lot of it was about character, and a lot of screen time was given to characters, for you to just see other people and how they think and feel. That gets lost nowadays.
Butler: Yeah, a popular movie these days is very seldom just about character, it is about spectacle. We actually believe you can have both. It was the reason for having our huge climax be like this double-edged sword. Yes, you have all this spectacle of this well falling apart and this fantastic looking witch ghost. But actually underneath it, it amounts to two 11-year-olds having an argument. And it was fun to play with that, to really base a lot of the story-making decisions on real character, not on fart jokes or pratfalls, or more safe, standardized formula.