Directed by Trevor Wall. Voice Cast: Rob Schneider, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, Maya Kay, Colm Meaney, Bill Nighy, Gabriel Iglesias, Loretta Devine, Michael McElhatton, Salome Jens, Janet Varney, Charles Adler, Dan Gordon, Kate Higgins, G.K. Bowes, Debi Derryberry. 2016 90 minutes Rated: (for rude humor).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for TheFilmFile.com, April 15, 2016.
An environmentally conscious computer-animated comedy about a polar bear "with too much care and not enough scare" doesn't sound like something inviting widespread critical disdain, but such was the case when "Norm of the North" was theatrically released in January 2016. When stacked up against the Disneys, Pixars and Illuminations of the world, this comparatively modest, lower-tier family film hailing from Lionsgate is middling and kind of lame, its screenplay by Daniel Altiere, Steven Altiere, Malcolm T. Goldman and Jamie Lissow resorting to groan-inducing pop-culture jokes to make up for its lack of creative refinement. Indeed, a plot point involving twerking and not one, but two, "booyah!" one-liners are desperately unfunny. Likewise, the animation, from the lines and background details to the animals' fur, is colorful but unpolished, looking more like a studio film from 2001. If "Norm of the North" is stretched thin even at 90 minutes, it is mostly inoffensive, diverting on occasion, and has glimmers of charm.
Norm (voiced by Rob Schneider) is a big lug with an even bigger heart, a polar bear who simply doesn't have it in him to gobble up seals the way his family does. When his majestic Arctic Circle dwelling is threatened by mounting tourisms and the arrival of a model home advertising real estate mogul Mr. Greene's (Ken Jeong) plan to build condos on ice, he and three lemmings secretly stow away to Manhattan in hopes of putting a stop to this would-be cataclysmic development scheme. Befriending Norm in the Big Apple is single mom Vera Brightly (Heather Graham), Mr. Greene's increasingly empathetic head of marketing, and Vera's plucky daughter Olympia (Maya Kay).
"Norm of the North" imparts valiant messages about global warming and the importance of conservationism without getting too preachy about it, and for this it is worth commending. Increased imagination, however, is needed in a film that frequently meanders through its story even as it doesn't dare slow down its hyperkinetic pacing. Director Trevor Wall doesn't trust in the material enough to let the characters breathe, while the resolution with Mr. Greene plays like an afterthought. When in doubt, Wall defers to music montages as Norm performs his Arctic Shake dance moves. At least the soundtrack (including Walk the Moon's "Shut Up and Dance" and Sheppard's "Geronimo") is fun. Norm is a sweet but dime-a-dozen protagonist; watching the movie, it was easy to daydream about a much different finished product where he is a peripheral figure (or tossed aside entirely) while the endearing, far more interesting Vera and Olympia are promoted to leads as they work on their relationship and struggle to get the intelligent Olympia the advanced education she deserves. Naturally, this alternate version would not have a scene where a character responds to bird droppings falling on his glasses by responding, "Oh, poop."