Norm of the North is Splash Entertainment’s first foray into feature animation, and if it’s an indicator of what we have to look forward to in 2016, then we’re probably best going into hibernation until next year.
Norm (voiced by Rob Schneider) is a polar bear whose home, the Arctic, is being overrun by tourists. But instead of rolling over and giving in like the rest of the polar critters, Norm decides to do something about it. He just so happens to have the magical ability to speak with humans and puts this skill to work by setting out to New York City with three of his lemming pals to stop a development tycoon Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong), who hopes to the Arctic the next big vacation home destination by flooding it with model homes. Luckily for Norm, the firm’s marketing director Vera (Heather Graham) is looking for a spokesperson who embodies the Arctic and he handily wins the role, using the platform he uses to sway public opinion in his favor to save his home.
During the showing, I glanced at my watch, hoping that the film was halfway done, and was horrified to discover that we were only 15 minutes in. I was really embarrassed watching this film. Not only because I brought guests (“Oh don’t worry about it,” a friend said afterwards, “When you have kids, you’re used to seeing bad movies like this.” Really? Is that the standard we have for animation in 2016?), but also for the people who made this film. I’m not sure how this passed the checkpoints that ultimately greenlit this film into production, but I wish more people would have spoken up.
Norm of the North crams as many stale animation and movie tropes in as it can, hoping to become a box office hit like its predecessors. We have the one-dimensional and over-the-top capitalist bad guy, the 90s conservationist message, the oversized and spectacle-wearing genius, the host of sidekick critters (à la Despicable Me or Penguins of Madagascar), the end credits dance party, and plenty of potty humor to go around.
The film brings nothing new to the table, and struggles to stay focused. During the first five minutes, we’re introduced to way too many inconsequential characters and plot elements such as the Arctic animals performing for the tourists, Norm’s ability to speak and twerk (yes, you read that correctly), the mysterious disappearance of his grandpa, and a doe-eyed female love interest who we don’t see again until the end. It’s as if the filmmakers didn’t have enough faith in their idea, choosing instead fell back on the elements that they thought made a great animated film. The result is a Frankenstein Monster of a film, sloppily pieced together, which is hardly engaging, even for an animation lover.
While Rob Schneider does his best voicing Norm, the film struggles with a terrible script and dialogue. Time after time, instead of letting the visuals and other storytelling elements progress the plot, the characters tell us what they are going to do before they do it. There is no room for subtlety or nuance here. Be prepared to have everything explicitly told to you like you’re a 4-year-old, which I suppose was the studio’s target audience because they leave nothing for the adults except for lame jokes that fall flat.
Norm of the North does nothing to progress the medium of animation, but instead entrenches it in the age-old stereotype that animation is for kids. While parents might not get much out of Norm of the North, the little ones will probably be completely satisfied. And on a mid-winter weekend in January, maybe that’s just what some parents need.
Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden