Norm of the North Quickly Goes South
Norm of the North comes to us from Splash Entertainment riding atop the Lionsgate Films distribution train; yes the same individuals responsible for what has become of the once-bright Alpha & Omega franchise.
Going in with this handicap alone should have clued me in to the type of entertainment experience to expect. However, I still continued on, blank slate into the project as it were. One thing that’s immediately clear from the onset here is that the additional budget (over the above mentioned TV series) definitely allowed for the integration of better visuals, smoother animations and much richer textures. Unfortunately, that’s about where the compliments end.
Norm of the North is a 2016 American computer-animated comedy-adventure film directed by Trevor Wall and written by Daniel R. Altiere, Steven M. Altiere, and Malcolm T. Goldman. And, despite being massacred by critics, somehow managed to turn a pretty healthy profit margin at the box-office; having been created on a budget of $18-million and turning that into $27.4-mil by the end of its theatrical run.
The story here tells of Norm, the Polar Bear (Rob Schneider); the son of the King Of The Arctic. In his youth, he develops the ability to speak to humans, a trait shared by his Grandfather (Colm Meaney). Because of this, he is outcast from the other animals, aside from a bird Socrates (Bill Nighy) and Elizabeth (Kate Higgins), a female polar bear/ Norm’s barely-used love interest.
Things operate about as normal as can be expected for a talking/ dancing polar bear in the wild until a condo-manufacturing outfit drops off the first of its new arctic homes with intentions of filming a commercial there.
Dancing Norm, obviously, isn’t going to take this sitting down and, with the assistance of some very Minion-esque lemmings, hatches a plot to scare away the crew of the project. From here it’s a muddled hour and 20-minutes more of Norm running around Manhattan, convincing the world at large that he is merely an actor in a bear suit on account of his ability to speak English.
His target is the mogul behind the condo operation, a bizarrely developed pony-tail sporting weirdo curiously named Mr. Greene (no environmentalist agendas here or anything). He’s voiced by Ken Jeong in one of the only vocal performances I’m aware of that sees Ken get to play a male.
Now here’s where things go from odd to worse; we discover that money-obsessed Mr. Greene, corporate man to the end, has apparently captured Norm’s English-speaking grandfather and is holding him captive. Gee, don’t you think that maybe this guy, who is presented as trying to make a profit on everything under the sun, may have thought to charge admission to see the world’s only talking bear? Or sold him off to science at the very least? Nah, throw the talking bear in the cage and let’s focus on putting up condos in one of the more inhospitable places on the planet.
And that, in summation, is the experience of watching Norm of the North in a nutshell. Now these are animated movies for children and I respect that but it’s been my experience that children are some of the toughest critics of them all. And the worst part is that the team behind this one was blatantly aware of that fact as well and made certain to load up the film with all sorts of terrible gimmicks designed to elicit a cheap laugh: Dancing polar bears, lemmings urinating all over the place, flatulence jokes aplenty.
Surprisingly, this is one of the rare animated films to feature the generally comedic Rob Schneider in the lead that doesn’t come off as a complete and utter train-wreck. A lot of this stems from the very clear fact that this was a film written and animated for its English-speaking cast. This makes all the difference in the world when attempting to get a believable performance out of an actor without the limitations of having to time their dialog to the mouth flaps of a foreign film. Watch Schneider’s performance in the abysmal Legend of the Sea for further proof of this phenomenon.
All told, there were a few moments where I really began to question the harsh assessments of this production. It literally has all of the pieces of the puzzle for success: A decent cast, solid visuals, human character models that appear to have been lifted from Despicable Me, for that matter even a gimmicky little troop of fur balls that they were clearly hoping would become the world’s next Minions. At the end of the day though, the finished product feels convoluted, nonsensical and tries way too hard to take it and its agendas seriously.
I suppose the lesson here is that if you’re intention is to try and rip off and combine Despicable Me with Happy Feet, go all the way with their vastly superior sense of silliness where applicable as well.