This film is by Laika, the same studio that created the film Coraline. I’ve had a soft spot for stop-motion animation since I watched Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer as a small child. There’s something special about looking at the screen and knowing those are real objects moving that my subconscious enjoys. Coming from the masters at Laika, I knew this animation would be top notch, but this is absolutely the most beautiful stop motion I have ever seen. This is definitely for an older audience, so as always, check out Dove and Parents TV, or watch it yourself before watching with your kids. Despite the fear factor and some naughtiness, this is an excellent film.
Norman Babcock is our protagonist, who we quickly learn can and regularly does talk with the dead. The ghost of his grandmother is hanging around the house. She tells him that most people go on to the afterlife when they die, but some people are compelled to stick around over unresolved business. His grandmother, for instance, made a promise to take care of him. Norman is ostracized by his family and his town because of his “gift”. They all treat him like a freak, and mostly, do not believe he can actually do it.
Woah! This is totally un-biblical! But what a great springboard for talking to our kids about death, and to compare what popular-culture tells them about the “after-life” with what scripture says. Firstly, let’s make sure that our kids understand where death came from; that it wasn’t part of the original construct of Creation, and that it is always a sad thing. Second, explain what happens when one dies. Scripture tells us clearly that when a Christian dies, he or she goes directly to where Christ is (with the Father). I heard a radio preacher just last week make a different claim, without scriptural basis, which shows that even in the church, there is confusion about this fact. As for non-Christians, we know that each man is once to die and then to be judged. Some believe judgment happens immediately upon death, others believe they rest until the Final Judgment. We can all agree that the dead all go to the merciful hand of God, and we can rely on Him to do what is best and what is undeniably good. Third, let’s remind them that communing with the dead, necromancy, is strictly forbidden by scripture.
That was a lot to clarify, but I imagine every kid wonders about these things. I know I did. If someone had told me when I was young that there are answers to these questions, I’d have been a lot less scared of the dark.
Back to the story; Norman’s town is the location of a historical witch execution, and the 300th anniversary is coming up. Norman’s started to have visions of the trial and of the curse the witch spoke against her accusers and the judge that ruled on her. We also meet Mr. Prenderghaust, Norman’s uncle whom everyone calls crazy, who is also able to speak with the dead. He tells his nephew that, on the night of the anniversary, the witch’s curse will take effect and destroy the town if Norman doesn’t go and read a special book at the site of the witch’s grave. Norman realizes that this practice of reading the book at the grave has been going on for generation after generation of necromancers, and all it does is keep the witch’s curse at bay for another year. But when Norman goes to read, he does it at the wrong place and the curse breaks out. Causing the judge and accusers to rise from their graves as zombies.
The zombies chase Norman and his friends back to town, but are stopped by the townspeople who begin to beat them mercilessly.
Norman and his friends head to town hall to find the location of the witch’s unmarked grave. Norman learns that the “witch” was actually a little girl, the same age as him, Aggie Prenderghaust. Wait, Prenderghaust, that’s the last name of Norman’s uncle, they don’t point it out in the film, but this implies that the witch was a distant relative of Norman. We also learn that the charge against her was NECROMANCY! That’s right, this little girl had the same talent that Norman and his uncle shared. We can assume that, just like Norman, the girl was ostracized by the town. Interestingly enough, the ghost of this little girl has been soothed to rest every year by the book of fairytales that was read to her by one of the necromancers in her family. The curse that she had placed on her accusers was meant to let them feel what it was like to be treated like a freak by the town. As zombies, they would be mistreated and share in her misery.
Norman decided that this cycle of anger and pain had gone on too long. Instead of simply soothing the ghost child to sleep, he decided to talk with her and give her peace to leave this world and enter the afterlife by resolving her unfinished business of punishing her accusers. In the end, Aggie finds peace in remembering the comfort of her mother’s hug and leaves, taking her curse with her. The zombies are also able to leave and the town realizes that Norman is their hero. He is no longer treated as a freak and is accepted for who he is by his friends and family.
Now, for the Gospel in it all. There is a curse that is on the town that affects everyone there negatively. This is similar to the curse that was caused by original sin. In the film, in order to hold the curse of the witch at bay, a necromancer must read to her annually to make her rest, but they know it will not be enough, for she’ll return the next anniversary and it will have to be done again. This is an excellent example of the endless cycle of sacrifices performed by the priests of Israel on behalf of both the sins of the people and themselves. As well, people often try to redeem themselves by being good, but our best efforts at righteousness are no more than filthy rags to God.
Their sacrifices were not enough to undo the curse of sin. When Norman comes to his turn, he is not satisfied to simply hold off the curse for another year, as all of his predecessors had done. Norman is different than his Uncle and the others before him, and he is different from the priests of old. Norman resolves the curse once and for all, it will not return. In the same way, when Jesus comes to His turn to present a sacrifice for the sins of the people, he doesn’t do it like the priests of old, who had to cover their own sins on top of the sins of the people. Jesus’ sacrifice is as perfect as He is, because He is the Sacrifice. When Jesus provided a sacrifice for sin, it was finished; it IS finished.
Something else to consider is that Norman is special, and he is treated badly because of that. Indeed, the same is true of Jesus, who was found to be undesirable. Despite being rejected, both of them risked everything to save those who persecuted them. Anyone can love someone who is good to them, but who can love their enemy? We, like the towns people were to Norman, must be grateful to Christ for while we were yet sinners, He died for us.
- Norman can see dead people. What does the Bible say happens when we die, and is it ok to try to communicate with the dead? (2 Corinthians 5:8, Hebrews 9:27, Leviticus 19:31)
- There is a curse on the town, caused by the ghost of the Blithe Witch, because of the way she was mistreated in her life. There is a curse on humanity as well, caused by sin. How did Norman’s uncle try to stop the witch’s curse? How do people try to stop the curse of sin? (Isaiah 64:6)
- The witch’s curse returned every year, because simply holding off the curse by reading fairytales was not enough to end the curse, how did Norman end the curse forever? The curse of sin is not satisfied with sacrifices by priests or by our attempts at righteous living. How has the curse of sin be ended forever by Jesus? (Hebrews 10:1-10)
- Norman was treated badly because of his gift, but after he saved the town, people were thankful for his ability. Jesus was also treated badly, because there was nothing about His appearance that should be regarded, and He came humbly riding on a donkey (as was prophesized He would centuries before). How should we respond to Him for saving us from the curse of sin? (Isaiah 53:2, Zech. 9:9)