Norm of the North
Posted on January 14, 2016 at 5:46 pm
“Norm of the North” is not awful, but it is also not special, not new, not funny, and not that interesting. The script is over-plotted but under-written, with confusing detours and uneven tone. It’s as though instead of coming up with an actual story the writers tried to assemble a formula from successful animated films — Cute sidekicks! Potty humor! Evil developers who want to despoil pristine environments! Random musical number! Wise advisor! A hero who is a clumsy outsider with a lot of heart! And a rescue! However, it also includes weirdly off-key or unresolved elements. There are actual stories to be told about the damage to the arctic environment and the potential for kids to make a difference in real life, but we’re going with condo developers and corrupt officials as the bad guys? And the issue of hunting other animal characters for food is clumsily handled. Kids may be reassured that Norm does not kill the sea lions, but he is not a vegetarian.
There are a couple of funny lines, but most of the wit of the movie is at the level of “I put the soul in winter soulstice!” “Who needs a bear with too much care and not enough scare?” Plus macho posturing, extended peeing into a fish tank, and a Nancy Pelosi “joke.”
Norm (Rob Schneider, who is quite good in his best-ever movie role) is a kind-hearted polar bear from the arctic who does not fit in because he is a poor hunter and not like the others. Both of these qualities relate to his ability to understand and speak “human” — meaning English. His wise and loving grandfather (Colm Meaney) has the same gift.
Norm’s arctic home is a popular site for tourists, and the animals appreciate tourism as it helps keep their home safe. If tourists want to come see the natural environment, then it will have to be kept as it is. But there is a developer named Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong) and we know he’s a bad guy because he has a dinky ponytail and yells a lot — and, of course, because he is a developer, who wants to build luxury homes for one-percenters on the polar icecap. Norm stows away on Mr. Greene’s company plane to come to the big city and stop the development. Accompanying him are three little arctic lemmings, whose primary characteristics are un-crushable resilience and public bodily functions.
Mr. Greene has a head of marketing, a single mom named Vera (Heather Graham). She is not entirely sure that the development is a good idea, but she desperately wants her daughter to get into a private school for gifted children, and Mr. Greene, as a graduate of the school, has promised an all-important recommendation if the development deal goes through. (The fact that the school produced a nutty crook like Mr. Greene does not cause her to question the school’s indispensability for her daughter.) It is a shame to hear the wonderful actress Salome Jens very briefly as a corrupt official, just there to look witchy and be bribed into approving the development.
It does not make much sense to try to explain the concept of distracting the populace with entertainment “bread and circuses” to children when the movie is a poor example of exactly that idea.
Parents should know that this film includes action-style violence and peril, a character captured and caged, chase scenes, theme of environmental destruction, corruption, mild language, and extended bodily function humor.
Family discussion: Why did Vera go along with Mr. Greene’s plan? What is the best way to protect the Arctic? How did the lemmings help Norm?
If you like this, try: the “Madagascar” movies and “Surf’s Up”