*Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) sees “dead people” but it’s not the dead people that concern him—or the town of Blithe Hollow for that matter—it is a witch’s curse that has been put on the town. Norman uses his paranormal powers to confront the witch head on and stave off a slew of zombies. Other town residents that are voiced include Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Tempest Bledsoe, John Goodman, Anna Kendrick, Tucker Albrizzi, Leslie Mann, and Elaine Stritch.
The Film Strip talked to the moviemakers Sam Fell (Director) and Chris Butler (Director/Screenplay) recently at the London Hotel in New York.
There are a lot of messages in this movie. Can you talk about them?
SAM FELL: I like the simple idea that what makes Norman weird also makes him wonderful. It’s a lot of things. Don’t judge a book by its cover is a strong theme.
CHRIS BUTLER: I think the big one for me is the intolerance thing. It’s not just as clear as saying bullying is being beaten up or having your head flushed down the toilet everyday of your life. It’s actually if anyone looks at you different or points their finger at you because of the way you speak, the way you dress, the color of your skin. That is still bullying and that’s a big part of the story I think is hopefully a kid will have a great time watching this movie, they’ll sit there, they’ll be part of this rollercoaster ride, they’ll find it funny and scary at all the right parts hopefully. But hopefully when it’s done they’ll maybe look at the person sitting next to them a little bit differently.
Do you think any animated movie should have a moral message?
SF: It’s nice if you can. It’s a great thing to do with animation in an entertaining way. Kids are very smart and they don’t like to be preached to, so if you want to talk to them about something difficult it’s much better to come at it sideways with a sense of humor.
CB: I think the stories that are most memorable, certainly the ones that I remember from my childhood, are the ones that actually had something to say. They’re not mutually exclusive; we can have a fun time and say something at the same time. When I set out writing this I didn’t necessarily set out to write an educational story about fitting in and the formation of identity. I wanted to write a fun zombie movie. It just so happens that it’s got something to say about bullying.
Was it a conscious decision to make adults inclusive?
SF: Definitely. We were saying earlier that adults are always telling kids how to do things and how things should be done right, but when you’re a kid you often look at adults and think you guys aren’t really following your own rules, are you?
So it’s safe to say this movie is for everyone?
CB: Yeah, but I wrote this as a movie for kids, well a family movie, and I was trying to go back to the kinds of movies and TV shows that I grew up watching. So not the horror movies but “The Goonies,” “Ghostbusters,” all those kinds of movies that were good for kids and adults and were slightly more irreverent, they had an edge to them that I think is sorely missing today quite often. So it was that kind of storytelling, that was the approach initially. But then when you actually get into the production it is a juggling act because you can change the tone of something very easily. So every day we were looking at stuff in context.
Why a kids’ zombie movie
CB: They take you somewhere. I think the best zombie movies always have some kind of social commentary; they always say something else. The zombies are almost incidental. That was my approach on this. It was that juxtaposition. It was if you’re 11 and you don’t fit in school, and the kid who lives down the road and bullies you, then it’s more frightening than a horde of zombies. It was that, it was using that cross-pollination. It just seemed perfect. I don’t know why, but it was that John Carpenter meets John Hughes thing.
Was there any trepidation introducing a gay character into a children’s film?
CB: It was part of the tolerance thing. It seemed important that we be brave about it. If we’re saying to anyone that watches this movie don’t judge other people, then we’ve got to have the strength of our convictions.
Syndicated columnist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at email@example.com.