This is going to sound like a weird thing to say, but I think ParaNorman might be the anti-bullying film that schools are looking for.
Norman is a kid who grows up in a town that is roughly parallel to Salem, Mass. The town tourist trades on a historical witch trial, and it turns out that the witch has cursed her sentencers to walk as living dead.
What you need to know about Norman is he can see the dead. People don’t believe him. If you see the previews, the movie looks like the zombie apocalypse, but it’s not. Norman is perceived by everyone in town, including his family, as trying to draw attention to himself, but truthfully Norman can see the dead. There’s a heartbreaking scene near the beginning where Norman walks down a seemingly empty street talking to ghosts and all the neighbors come out to stare. Then we see the street through Norman’s eyes, full of ghosts. My heart went out to this misunderstood little boy.
Yeah, Norman likes horror films, but Norman would also like to be more accepted. There’s another kid in town, Neil Downe, who is ostracized because he is fat. Neil is solid. He is Norman’s friend even when Norman doesn’t want a friend, and he believes Norman. He stands by Norman when no one else will. He threatens Norman’s crazy uncle with hummus!
Norman does have a crazy uncle. The uncle can also see the dead, and he has sacrificed his life in the service of placating the witch each spell cycle so she will not make the dead walk. Regrettably, the uncle dies, but since his ghost can talk to Norman, Norman tries to keep the dead from walking.
That doesn’t quite work out. Norman has to figure out a way to solve the problem, save the day, and make justice happen about two hundred and fifty years after it should have.
ParaNorman unflinchingly looks at how difference is treated, and how different children react to bullying. Norman and Neil are heroic. In the end, Norman’s family gets behind him.
As a point of interest, Neil’s older brother Mitch comes out of the closet at the end of the film. This is the first gay character I can remember in an animated film outside of Tokyo Godfathers.
See ParaNorman with your kids, and talk about Norman’s journey with them.