Norm of the North is Hard to Bear
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2016 14 Jan
DVD Release Date: April 19, 2016
Theatrical Release Date: January 15, 2016
Rating: PG (for mild rude humor and action)
Run Time: 86 min.
Director: Trevor Wall
Cast: Rob Schneider, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, Bill Nighy, Colm Meaney
Sometimes an animated film based on an existing property exceeds all expectations. Think of last year's (criminally underseen) Shaun the Sheep, a charming story that took a beloved character from an earlier BBC TV series and successfully extended the character's antics to feature length. Or 2014's The Lego Movie, a film based primarily on impersonal building blocks more than actual characters. Even without a well-known protagonist, The Lego Movie managed to delight audiences of all ages.
More often than not, such adaptations tend to leave us longing for original stories that surprise us, as with Pixar's recent Inside Out and other productions. Sadly, though, most animated films aimed at families are unsatisfying, whether they're adapted from existing sources, unnecessary sequels/spin-offs (see: Minions), or original properties. And such is the case with the "original" Norm of the North.
This story of a talking polar bear who longs to protect his Arctic habitat from a despicable developer feels pieced together from other well-known kid films, and when the stock nature of the storytelling becomes apparent early on, Norm of the North goes south in a hurry.
Polar bear Norm (voice of Rob Schneider, Grown Ups) calls the Artic home, but he's always felt a bit out of place. Although he's destined to be a future king, he's been exhibiting less than kingly behavior. When he goes out for a hunt, animal friends bet against Norm's success, then thank him when the bet pays off.
Rather than displaying the ferocious traits expected of his species, Norm proclaims he's a bear with "too much care, not enough scare." His other "human tendencies," as the characters in the film refer to them, include a love of poetry and dance that lead one bear to declare that Norm "doesn't belong in the artic, he belongs on Broadway!" (The film establishes early on that a female bear has eyes for Norm, mitigating suspicions that these jokes suggest something about Norm’s sexuality).
The animals have grown uneasy over the human tourists visiting their homeland, but it's not until an evil developer, Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong, Turbo), decides to build multiple family homes there that Norm decides to fight those efforts. It's "our land, our responsibility," a wise polar-bear elder tells Norm, who eventually assumes that responsibility for all Arctic wildlife.
Soon Norm and his friends, which includes a group of lemmings that gets laughs by relieving themselves everywhere they go (yes, you read that correctly), end up in New York City, where Norm sets about sabotaging marketing efforts for the new development from Greene Homes. On his side is Olympia (Maya Kay), the daughter of Greene's chief marketing executive, Vera (Heather Graham, Judy Moody). But Vera can't join Norm's efforts to make Greene look bad because she needs Greene's recommendation to get Olympia into a school for gifted-and-talented children. It's up to Norm to figure out how to get Vera—and the growing number of people to whom Vera is marketing the new Arctic properties—on Norm's side.
The film plays out exactly how you would expect, with obvious moral lessons and tepid attempts to generate laughter. We've seen it all before. A message about preserving pristine spaces against developers? See the Rio movies. An adventure that takes animals to different continents? See the Madagascar movies. Wacky side characters who get laughs because of certain bodily functions? See The Lion King. A tale of a son who would be king, against all expectations? See The Lion King (again).
Indeed, nothing that Norm of the North does to get laughs feels original. It's all been done before, and better, in superior films from the same genre. Norm of the North deserves nothing less than to be dismissed and forgotten. It's another pandering "family film" that, given the top-quality genre options that have proliferated in recent years thanks to Pixar and Aardman, we no longer have to settle for.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; “holy Hitchcock!”; “fallen on your butt”
- Drinking/Smoking/Drugs: None; a character thinks about a drink that includes vermouth
- Sex/Nudity: None; a reference to twerking; Norm’s towel falls off after a shower and he covers up
- Violence/Crime: Animals joke about mauling a human tourist; lemmings are stomped, electrocuted and otherwise nearly killed off before springing back to their usual, healthy shape; a man breaks into a restaurant wielding a tranquilizer gun; “Operation Kill That Bear”; animals run into traffic on a busy bridge
- Religion/Morals/Marriage: Animals plays cards and gamble, and bet on the success of Norm’s hunt; Mr. Greene is seen meditating and saying “ommm”
Publication date: January 14, 2016