NORM OF THE NORTH (2016) review
written by: Steven M. Altiere, Daniel R. Altiere and Malcolm T. Goldman
produced by: Nicolas Atlan, Ken Katsumoto, Steve Rosen, Liz Young, Mike Young, Steven M. Altiere & Daniel R. Altiere
directed by: Trevor Wall
rated: PG (for mild rude humor and action)
runtime: 88 mion.
U.S. release date: January 12, 2016
“Norm of the North” offers nothing new to audiences in the way of style, story or substance. The makers of this inane and predominately unfunny animated feature simply expect caregivers to bring their children to the theater like lemmings. What makes me mad is that is exactly what will happen. Parents, grandparents, guardians and the like, will see that an animated feature is in theaters and will throw their money at it, with no regard for quality. In that respect, both filmmakers and consumers are aligned.
I wanted to write this review immediately after I saw this movie, but that didn’t work out. I became busy and, well….prorities. I knew how I felt about it though and that hasn’t changed much – I did not like this film. I didn’t hate it, but I was angered it wasted my time and now I’m frustrated that I have to get this review out of my system.
What we have here is yet another dumbed-down cartoony comedy featuring anthropomorphic characters who act more human than they ought to. Seriously, what’s wrong with animals acting like animals? The creators of this dreck have obviously never seen “Watership Down”, or “Bambi”, for that matter. I what am I going on about? Those movies are too high-minded. Besides, it’s fun to see a polar bear twerk, right?
That polar bear is the titular Norm (an unrecognizable, paycheck-grabbing, Rob Schneider), who resides in the beautiful arctic wilderness, surrounded by his lemmings – ahem, actual lemmings (not the humans who’ll pay to take their kids opening weekend, these are basically arctic gophers) – and a wise gull named Socrates (Bill Nighy, the only cast member who’s actually trying), yet looks like he’s wearing Groucho glasses. Norm is in line to one day become the King of the North, but he’s too nice. When he hunts seals, he winds up just cuddling with them, enamored by their cuteness. So, he’s kind of a failure as a bear.
But hey, he kills it with visiting tourists! No, really. His doofus brother has this whole show prepped for when Alaskan cruise ships float by and bring their guests to the glacier shore to be entertained with a wildlife song-and-dance show. It’s completely unfunny and stupid – but wait, Norm is known to close the show with his trademark “Arctic Shake” dance, complete with belly-jiggling, hip-shaking and twerking moves! Just what you’re hoping for in a family movie. Norm’s only other talent is that he can talk. All his other animal pals talk too, they talk to each other – but, Norm can talk to humans and they can talk to him. That talent hasn’t really paid off for Norm yet.
Enter evil real estate tycoon, Mr. Greene (an utterly annoying Ken Jeong) from New York City, who has plans to exploit the arctic with the construction of pre-fabricated condos to migrate humans to the north for good. The idea is that since so many tourists have enjoyed visiting the arctic, they’d like to live there too. Realizing that a human population would be the worst thing for his environment, Norm makes his way to the Big Apple to stop Greene’s plans. Since he can talk, Norm pretends to be the mascot needed to market the real estate plan and in the process he befriends Greene’s assistant, Vera (Heather Graham) and her daughter Olympia (Maya Kay). As he goes along with promoting Greene’s plans, Norm discovers his long-lost grandfather (Colm Meaney) has been held captive by the villain for years. Norm not only has to stop Greene, he has to free his grandfather and take him back up north.
I knew going in that “Norm of the North” would be crap when I saw the vanilla trailer last fall, but then I saw this, “originally planned for a straight-to-DVD release, but eventually was given a wide theatrical run”, on the movie’s IMDb page. Yeah, that should’ve happened. Searching for more info, I also found this, “was supposed to be directed by Anthony Bell (who previously directed Lionsgate’s hit film “Alpha and Omega” but Trevor Wall replaced him – coincidentally, I just checked my review of “Alpha and Omega” just now and I made some of the same observations I did here in that review. So, although Lionsgate went with a different director, they essentially chose Wall to direct like Bell – no win for anyone). I shouldn’t be surprised that that anthropomorphic movie spawned a couple straight-to-DVD/streaming sequels, which is where “Norm” should’ve went to die.
There’s an audience for this kind of base (or basement) animation though with its garish palette of colors, bland textures, unimaginative character design and frenzied movement. In particular, the look and frantic movement of Mr. Greene was idiotic – a senseless whirlwind of flaying noodles for limbs and a ball of silly putty for a torso. Not to mention the cloying voice work Ken Jeong is providing – an actor who is hired to do the same thing over and over, whether it’s animated or live action. Jeong isn’t alone here, though – the rest of the voice acting ranges from unmemorable to insufferable. If I didn’t already know Schneider was the voice of Norm, I’d have no clue who it was. There’s nothing definitively Schneider about his work here. Maybe that’s intentional, but it doesn’t help much. The odd thing is that with Schneider, Heather Graham and Colm Meaney, it feels like “Norm of the North” is a shelved embarrassment from the 90s. That being said, it would’ve been more interesting for this movie to have been live-action and have the actors act like their animal roles – oh wait, Schneider has already done that.
The overall story of “Norm of the North” doesn’t help the movie one iota. It’s clever or imaginative or thought through at all and it’s so very pedestrian even for its target audience. It needed to be pushed in a more deliberate tone – more zany or more geo-political (insert your choice of “more”) for the movie to really offer something. As it stands, the movie has no emphatic theme except to suggest that Norm wants to save “the North” from human overpopulation. As for the story’s humor, I’d like to know who the writers tried these jokes on – the neighbor kids? one of their nephews? – because if the only time I offered an audible laugh was during a few scenes with the lemmings (clearly ripping off the minions from the “Despicable Me” movies), then there’s problems. But hey, there’s plenty of jokes about farting, peeing and pooping included here, so those are guaranteed laughs – for a four year-old. Maybe.
To reiterate, “Norm of the North” doesn’t care about you and neither does anyone who produced this mess. They don’t care that you’re smart enough to know what constitutes as funny and inventive and so on – but I do, I care about you and what you watch, dear reader. I know that time is precious and valuable and shouldn’t be wasted, if you can help it. If this movie did anything positive for me, it was to remind me of that.