So I just watched 2012’s animated movie, ParaNorman, the story of a boy who could see and interact with ghosts, a weirdness that made the people of his town to either ridicule him or be wary of him. He eventually used his gift to break a curse that had hovered over the town for decades. Accompanying Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) in his journey to unravel the mysteries of this curse were his cheerleader sister, Courtney (voiced by Anna Kendrick), his high school friend, Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi) and Neil’s buff but slightly imbecilic brother, Mitch (voiced by Casey Affleck).
So, of course, as they screech and scream and run their way through zombies and the eerie prescence of a witch, Courtney found time to flirt unabashedly with Mitch. After spending half the film Mitch, Courtney wraps up the evening by asking the jock for a date. Nothing fancy, just a movie. Mitch, aloof as ever, misreads the invite and reveals that his boyfriend loves “chick flicks.”
I didn’t see that coming, aswear. My surprise at the injection of LGBT into such a family movie escaped from me in a burst of laughter. I was especially amused when I considered that at the time of the movie’s release in 2012, kids across the world would be dragging their parents to see a strange animated horror-adventure yarn, and they’d wind up watching the first openly gay character in a kiddie flick.
The throwaway nature of the joke is key, not because the filmmakers are trying to slide something past us, but because the quick punchline is played with such flippancy it renders the character’s sexual orientation otherwise irrelevant. In the world of ParaNorman, Mitch is gay and everyone’s fine with it. This ties in with the movie’s lessons about bullying and fear of those who are different, but it does so subtly, quietly. Maybe it’ll plant a seed in the minds of some younger viewers, who might begin pondering, hey, it’s OK for Norman and Neil to be different, and then that train of thought might float over to hey, Neil’s brother is different, too, and that’s also OK.
This alone is a very, very cool thing. But here’s even something cooler: the nature of the joke suggests Mitch is out. He’s completely casual about talking in public about his boyfriend. How’s that for radical, suggesting the school’s star quarterback and probably the most popular kid in town is openly gay. That’s a hell of a role model to toss to teens lurking in the closet, and could very well help lead to a generation which has no use for the closet.