“kids movies don’t get much worse than Norm of the North

by Steve Pulaski

“Norm of the North” is the kind of animated film that happens when you have an idea filled with potential and substance but cruelly underestimate the intelligence level of your target audience. Consider what would’ve happened if Pixar took their amazingly creative and layered idea for their most-recent smash-hit “Inside Out” and softened it into a film that featured the emotions dancing at random times or just completely abandoning the narrative in order to make some slapstick or bathroom joke. It would’ve entirely undermined the extractable subtext of how powerful and complex our emotions are, and how emotions like fear and sadness are often precursors to joy and happiness.

“Norm of the North” takes a story about global warming, involving corporate America undertones and the wealthy one percent, and makes a film that puts all its emphasis on poorly animated characters, such as a twerking polar bear and rambunctious side-characters that combine the worst tendencies of the Minions from “Despicable Me” and the penguins from “Madagascar.” What could be a film that gets kids to become more environmentally conscious and aware of what goes on in their world instead becomes nothing more than an electronic babysitter for kids that places all its emphasis on mind-numbing dance-numbers and screwball antics that undermine whatever kind of subtext the film wanted its audience to takeaway from it.

Norm of the North
Directed by
Trevor Wall
Rob Schneider, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong
Release Date
15 January 2016
Steve’s Grade: D-

The film revolves around the titular character (voiced by Rob Schneider, who at least keeps his streak of starring and participating in almost a dozen films that I haven’t come close to enjoying), a polar bear living in the arctic and grappling with his inability to hunt or scare. He does, however, have the ability to talk to humans, which he learns would be the most powerful weapon in communicating to tourists of the arctic that they are hurting the pure land more than they are helping it. Norm’s ultimate chance to inform the world comes when the wealthy hippie CEO Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong, who I just got over not tolerating in “Ride Along 2” yesterday) begins to implement his plan to build luxury houses and condos in the frozen tundra.

Norm winds up meeting Vera Brightly (Heather Graham), a real estate developer who works for Mr. Greene, and winds up following her back to New York in order to try and be the spokesperson for the arctic. He does so by signing up for Greene’s casting call for an actor to portray a polar bear and express support for his housing development. For some benign reason, every human in New York believes that Norm is a bear in costume, and his alibi becomes his greatest weapon in trying to save his home.

Norm travels with three furry lemmings, who serve as the aforementioned side-characters of the film. The lemmings’ extent of involvement in the narrative is urinating or exhibiting some other bodily function, in addition to persistently being smashed by larger forces only to spring back to life in a matter of moments. They make the Minions seem like complex beings filled with unbelievable depth. This is precisely the kind of thing that undercuts the film’s heavy morals and hard-hitting themes; it’s a lack of confidence on part of the whomping three writers (Daniel R. Altiere, Steven M. Altiere, and Malcolm T. Goldman) it took to pen this thing and director Trevor Wall himself.

In short, “Norm of the North” is what happens when studio executives get a bold idea, but presumably in order to garner funding and external interest in the project, neuter and shortchange all the potential the film has to offer to produce something safe and marketable. That’s all “Norm of the North” is at the end of the day; a cautious, easy-to-sell film that is remarkably unfunny and immature even the littlest of kids will find babyish.

NOTE: Though kids movies don’t get much worse than “Norm of the North,” the film has one of the most self-referential lines I’ve heard in a while, in terms of quite possibly illustrating how this film got released in the first place. Early in the film, we see a film crew shooting a commercial in the arctic, and the cocky and pretentious director of the commercial states that it doesn’t matter what the plot of the story is because a good plot “can be made in post-production.” The construction, narrative coherence, and marketability of “Norm of the North” was probably assembled under the same conditions in the same state of the filmmaking process.