'Norm of the North'
If the inevitably Oscar-nominated ‘Inside Out’ represents a gold standard in CGI family entertainment, then ‘Norm of the North’ represents the shit standard. This cynically and cheaply produced animated flick steals ideas and designs from countless hits of the past and proves that merely copying a formula is no guarantee of success.
Unfunny, predictable, corny and even rather ugly in appearance, ‘Norm of the North’ is a frustrating failure on almost every level. It likely would have gone straight to DVD if that option was still lucrative enough for CGI features. But it’s not, so theatrical release it is! Don’t fall for the trap.
Want proof that the movie is a stinker? Consider this: Animation voice acting gigs are some of the cushiest jobs in Hollywood. Movie stars line up to lend their voices to these projects because they require only a small time commitment but deliver mucho dollaros. Yet, somehow the folks behind ‘Norm of the North’ ended up with Rob Schneider as their title character. That’s right, the guy who didn’t even make it back for ‘Grown Ups 2’ got the call. That’s not a good sign. Indeed, the movie lives up to the brand of quality we’ve come to expect from the star of ‘Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo’.
Schneider voices Norm, a popular polar bear in the artic. Everyone around his frigid home adores Norm for his dance called the “Arctic Shake.” The dance itself is about as lazy and generic as the title. Of course, that doesn’t stop director Trevor Wall from forcing the “Artic Shake” onto audiences a painful number of times before the credits roll. To be fair, that was likely to extend the running time to feature length, and it appears as though he recycled the same dance animation several times. So at least the “Artic Shake” was a budget saver.
Anyhoo, Norm’s life of shaking his tukhus while chatting with cutie pie artic animals runs into trouble when someone drops a massive condo right in the middle of his home, ruining the picturesque snowscape. You might assume that an irritatingly shallow environmental tale will follow, and you’d be right, because everything about this movie is predictable.
The condo was set up by a go-getter real estate agent voiced by Heather Graham. She planned to shoot a commercial with her insta-condo, but the director fled after Norm and his gang caused a ruckus. However, Graham’s character is determined to make the deal to send her daughter to an expensive private school, so she convinces her boss (Ken Jeong) that the footage she has of a polar bear racing towards her will convince rich folk they need an artic condo to add excitement to their lives. For the sake of narrative convention, the boss agrees and Graham heads back to New York with her condo. Then for the sake of culture-clash comedy and important life lessons, Norm sneaks onto the boat and joins her in the city. Will his sweet dance moves turn him into an accidental celebrity? Maybe! Why? I don’t know. Someone thought it was funny, I guess.
The script is a collection of family movie clichés, cramming together formulas and gags that worked before in the desperate hope that they’ll somehow work again. Nothing ever congeals and everything feels forced. The voice acting is limp, even from folks like Ken Jeong and Bill Nighy who generally can’t help but be funny. The animation and design work look like a cheap knockoff of DreamWorks Animation, which is already a cheap knockoff of Pixar animation, so the visuals are rough. Some of the attempts at visual gags are nonsensical, like the bizarre and jittery movements of Jeong’s character which are clearly supposed to be funny, but never hit any sort of mark. Norm even gets some silent sidekicks known as Lemmings that are as close to Minions as copyright laws will allow and nowhere near as charming.
There’s a sense of desperation to every character, joke and plot beat in the movie. It feels as if the filmmakers knew how poorly the movie was turning out so they kept stealing other ideas from successful animated features and cramming them in, hoping something would connect. Nothing does. It’s all pretty abysmal.
Eventually, the rambling plot, tedious characters and lame jokes stumble towards a conclusion filled with tired morals. This is yet another children’s movie about the importance of family and saving the environment. To be sure, those are important messages to impart to kids, just not through ‘Norm of the North’. Like everything else, the messages are so tacked-on and forced that it’s hard to imagine even children with only a few movies under their belts won’t sense the pandering.
The movie is so obviously constructed from spare parts and desperate for success that it’s clear no one involved really cared about the story they were telling or why they were telling it. No, the filmmakers merely wanted to make some cash and realized that animated family features are an easy money pit, so they cynically constructed this nonsense and ended up with a limp feature that will please no one. The saddest part is that an army of animators had to suffer to make this mess, even though no one at the top cared about the results. All of that work went to waste. What a shame. Hopefully there won’t be too many families tricked into suffering through ‘Norm of the North’. The people responsible should not be allowed to make another one of these turkeys.