If there’s one reason for Norm of the North to exist, it’s to teach audiences how easy it can be to string together a kid’s movie without putting in any effort. Simply begin by taking some well known actors desperate for a paycheck (Rob Schneider, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong), give them a hollow character without requiring they provide any sort of personality, immediately date the comedy with jokes about “twerking” and “haters” and pray you make a profit. Why try to create something memorable that competes with the likes of Pixar or Dreamworks, when you can just have a polar bear dancing and some annoying lemmings peeing in a fish tank?
Norm of the North stars Rob Schneider in the titular role of Norm, a polar bear that, in true stereotypical fashion, just can’t fit in with the other arctic animals surrounding him. So when a big evil corporation comes to try and take over the arctic with condominiums, Norm must journey to the city in order to save his home. Ironically, for a film that contains a narrative against big business gimmicks, that’s all this movie really consists of: gimmicks. There’s a bunch of, what we’d imagine were intended to be “cute,” lemmings that are supposed to be the comic relief (that fails miserably). There’s a forced romance stuffed into this already thin narrative, where you’ll never understand why they’re even remotely interested in one another. They just give each other a look, and poof, the studio expects you to believe that’s chemistry. Finally, they throw in what many had hoped died decades ago: a forced movie dance craze. This film tries so hard to sell your kids this “Arctic shake” gimmick, that it’s an honest surprise the film hadn’t originally been called Watch Norm Do The Arctic Shake #LOL.
You just have to wonder how movies like this even manage to make it to the big screen. Before this film made it to theaters, two direct to DVD sequels had been announced. That alone should show you what kind of movie Norm of the North is: child profit. No parent in their right mind would make their child watch this if they actually knew what it was like, but because their kid is giddily bouncing up and down at the thought of a polar bear twerking, they’re going to have no choice but to take their kids anyway. Yet, even the youngest of infants will be hard pressed in finding something to laugh at here. Everyone, even your kids, have seen these jokes before. The painfully weak slapstick, the distasteful amounts of fart and urine jokes, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to claim you won’t laugh once in this movie. Your kids may, by some miracle, find something to chuckle at, but all you’ll be able to do is sit there and pray for the end to come quickly.
In contrast, while there are plenty of movies aimed solely at children that are entirely decent, it’s highly unlikely your kid will ever remember what happens in this dud. The animation, while not atrocious, is thoroughly bland and uninspired except for the lemmings, which are just outright horrific looking. Shockingly, some scenes of the lemmings are downright recycled from earlier parts of the movie, and it’s fairly easy to catch. This meager level of animation prowess would be acceptable in something like a college project, not a Hollywood flick with an estimated budget of $18 million. Would you ever find such laziness in works like Inside Out or How to Train Your Dragon?
Yet, what feels more unforgivable than anything else this film can throw at you, is the complete indifference to the characters themselves. You’d think familiar names such as Bill Nighy or Gabriel Igelsias would be able to bring some form of personality to their roles, but their talents are so swiftly squandered and minuet, you’d never pick up on their input if the posters didn’t plaster it in big letters front and center. Wasted is Ken Jeong as the villain, who lacks any form of depth imaginable, simply being greedy because “big evil corporation man wants money.”
That’s not what’s the most bothersome though. Norm has parental figures running the arctic while he’s off on his adventures, and they only appear twice in the movie. The father has some lines about, “not believing in his son” towards the beginning, and some lines about, “I should have believed you” towards the end. Again, bland and boring, but that’s not where the problem lies. In those two scenes of Norm’s parents, when you’re exiting the theater or driving your children home, you’ll realize not once did Norm’s mother speak. She just appears to fill a void in the animation space, as her character does absolutely nothing to add to the narrative in any way shape or form. Something like this is meant to be given to a background character, but not one of the supposed authority figures. How can we be expected to forgive such oversight of a useless character? Take a page from Disney’s book, just kill the parent off. If there’s no reason for a character to be in that scene, whether it be filling a role or helping the main character on their journey, they have no reason to exist in the movie. This is “Filmmaker 101,” and it looks like the creators of Norm of the North need to retake the course.
When it’s all said and done, Norm of the North is the worst kind of animated movie. It tries absolutely nothing new or original to create an identity for itself, but instead has a plethora of stale jokes you’ve already heard a hundred times. Is it the worst animated movie ever made? Doubtful, there are plenty of other flicks that have done a lot worse, but in that is exactly what’s wrong with this movie, there’s no originality. Where there should be a character in Norm developing over the course of the run-time, he remains completely dull and uninteresting. Where there should be dramatic consequences that give heft to the narrative, you get a story that ends completely by the numbers. Everyone gets what they want, the bad guy gets his comeuppance. Nothing new, nothing memorable, and this gross resolve to make money over character can not be forgiven. In the end, Norm of the North needs to be put back in the bottom of the Walmart bargain bin where it belongs.