It’s kind of sad to think that in 2016 – a year that saw such great animated releases as Zootopia, Moana, Finding Dory, Kubo and the Two Strings and a number of others – could also produce an animated feature as abysmal as Norm of the North. This half-baked, half-witted cartoon is at once so generic it seems like the filmmakers just copied and pasted the most basic animated premise they’d seen, and so mishandled you wonder if the filmmakers have ever seen a movie.
Norm of the North tells the story of (surprise) Norm of the North (Rob “Insert South Park reference” Schneider), a polar bear who was born with the ability to speak English, a gift he shares only with his grandpa, who has been MIA for some time. This makes Norm an outcast to the other animals of the Arctic, with his only friend being a bird named Socrates (Bill Nighy).
When it turns out that a development company is building houses on the Arctic (because why not?), Norm runs into a human woman named Vera (Heather Graham), an employee of the development company who captures Norm on video. She then sends the footage of Norm to her boss, Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong), who asks Vera to find a spokesperson for his company by, and I quote “finding an actor who looks just like that polar bear.”
Norm manages to sneak onboard Vera’s plane, accompanied by a trio of annoying lemmings, whom I think are supposed to be the comic relief. He lands in New York City, applies for the job as the spokesperson for Mr. Greene’s company (as a means to use his gift of talking to humans to save the arctic from development), and ultimately gets said job, convincing everyone he is a method actor constantly wearing a polar bear suit.
From there, the rest of the plot focuses on Norm gaining popularity as a spokesman to try to get the approval ratings for Mr. Greene’s company up, so that Norm can publicly endorse against developing in the Arctic. Also, there’s a subplot about Vera trying to get her genius daughter Olympia into a special college for geniuses, and needs the recommendation of Mr. Greene – an alumni of the college – in order to get her daughter enrolled (in what is ultimately a weak excuse in trying to justify why Vera tolerates Mr. Greene’s antics). Also also, another subplot involves Norm’s grandfather having been kidnapped by Mr. Greene, and Norm’s attempts to rescue him.
I don’t even know where to begin with this mess of a plot. The whole “outcast main character” setup is just so commonplace in animated features, and Norm of the North never even attempts to give Norm any additional defining traits to justify the cliched setup (unless one counts twerking as a defining trait, that is). Then the environmentalist theme is just so obnoxiously loud. I’m all for protecting the environment, but Norm of the North seems to shout its message through a megaphone at every turn as a means to feel important. Subtlety really goes a long way with thematics, but Norm of the North’s display of environmentalism is so forced and loud even the most diehard treehugger would roll their eyes in contempt and annoyance.
As if the overarching plot weren’t insulting enough to the intelligence of its audience, many of the singular moments of Norm of the North are just beyond stupid. Case in point: there’s an instance in the film when Mr. Greene first suspects Norm is a real polar bear, and attempts to shoot Norm in a crowded restaurant. Norm subdues Mr. Greene, and because of his heroism, the approval ratings for Mr. Greene and his company begin to soar.
But hold on a sec! Mr. Greene is the one who was trying to shoot someone in a crowded restaurant, but his approval ratings skyrocket because his recently-hired spokesperson was the one who saved the day?! Wouldn’t Mr. Greene’s company lose approval after its owner tried to blatantly murder someone in public? Couldn’t Norm have used Mr. Greene’s blatant display of madness as a means to discredit him and his company? I’m sure even the youngest of audiences would find this glaring disregard towards storytelling and basic logic to be insulting. And the movie is filled with such moments.
If this weren’t all bad enough, the film’s animation is both outdated and ugly, so you can’t even compliment it on a visual front. The character designs are all generic and uninspired, and their movements look clunky and awkward. The sole commendable thing I can think of with the film is that Mr. Greene’s movements are purposefully exaggerated and sporadic, which actually fits with the character. It’s like, for that one character, the animators actually played to their strengths. But it doesn’t change how mechanical everyone else moves. I would say that Norm of the North’s CG looks like something from the early 2000s, but CG from the early 2000s actually holds up better.
Norm of the North is simply not an enjoyable movie. Its story is beyond pedestrian, it’s themes feel shoehorned, its animation is ugly, the characters unmemorable, and those damn lemmings keep peeing on everything.
I really, really don’t like this movie.