Film Review: Norm of the North

Often ridiculous but mostly harmless kiddie fare that tends to go for lowbrow humor while preaching an overused ecological message.
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It’s hard to fathom why anyone would want to go outside during the cold, freezing month of January to watch a movie about a dancing polar bear other than the fact it may be the only way to get their bored kids out of the house over a long holiday weekend. Previous family hits like Snow Dogs and Eight Below have proven this to be the case.

Granted, not every animated movie can deliver quality on the caliber of Disney or Pixar or other proven animation houses. Most of the better houses take their product and their viewers seriously enough to treat their films with the same level of skill and expertise as the directors of live-action movies, especially when it comes to story.

And then you have Norm of the North, clearly the vision of a producer who realized what easy marks young kids can be, knowing that neither they nor their parents will be aware how long Norm of the North has been shuffled around the release schedule, the last delay being for over a year.

Animated movies do take time to get made, but it doesn’t seem like that extra time has been used to make Norm of the North better. The title character of Norm is a polar bear voiced by once semi-relevant Adam Sandler sideman Rob Schneider, who has figured out he can talk directly to humans while entertaining them with his dance moves. After his grandfather, the King of the Arctic (voiced by Colm Meaney) disappears, greedy developer Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong) wants to build condos on their land, forcing Norm to travel to New York where he pretends to be an actor in a bear costume to infiltrate the villainous Greene’s operation in order to stop him.

Beyond how ridiculous and even confusing that plot might seem at times, when all else fails Norm of the North relies on formula and the lowest-brow bathroom humor, essentially treating its pre-pubescent audience as if they aren’t cultured or smart enough to want more from their animated movies. Granted, some of the jokes and references will go above their younger heads, but one still hopes kids these days are smart enough to know when they’re being patronized to.

Norm of the North even has its own version of the Minions or the lemurs from the Madagascar movies in the form of “lemmings,” similarly adorable creatures there to help Norm in his adventure. When not acting cute, they’re responsible for the worst cases of potty humor in the form of constant flatulence and inopportune urination. Otherwise, there are too many strange characters introduced too quickly, mostly voiced by a fairly low-rent cast, other than possibly Bill Nighy as a gull psychologist named Socrates.

Norm of the North does have a few saving graces, one of them being the Heather Graham-voiced Vera Brightley, the main marketing person for the crooked Greene, who is mainly concerned with getting her smart daughter Olympia (Maya Kaye) into a better school. For some reason, this seems like a far more relevant topic to parents and kids than the film’s weak attempt at preaching ecological responsibility to the most impressionable young kids. (With a better education, they can learn this stuff from better teachers than a goofy animated movie.)

Also in the film’s favor, Norm’s trademark Arctic Shake dance moves are accompanied by catchy dance-pop tunes by the likes of Walk the Moon and Sheppard, which offer better entertainment value than most of the jokes.

In other words, Norm of the North may be just fine for the youngest of kids, at least to try to get them out of the house, but for anyone over a certain age or IQ, it’s likely to be fairly mind-numbing.

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