Genre: CG Animation
Director: Trevor Wall
Cast: Rob Schneider, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, Gabriel Iglesias, Loretta Devine, Michael McElhatton, Colm Meaney, Bill Nighy
Runtime: 1 hr 26 mins
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: http://www.normofthenorth.movie
Opening Day: 4 February 2016
Synopsis: A polar bear of many words, Norm’s greatest gripe is simple: there is no room for tourists in the Arctic. But when a maniacal developer threatens to build luxury condos in his own backyard, Norm does what all normal polar bears would do…he heads to New York City to stop it. With a cast of ragtag lemmings at his side, Norm takes on the big apple, big business and a big identity crisis to save the day.
Just when you thought that animated movies were taking it to the next level, along comes the thoroughly uninspired ‘Norm of the North’ to show you that they are, sometimes, no better than Saturday morning cartoons. Ripping off the far superior ‘Happy Feet’ series, director Trevor Wall’s loud, chaotic adventure sees a ‘twerking’ polar bear (his signature move is dubbed the ‘Arctic Shake’) journey from the Arctic to New York City in order to stop a ruthless property developer Mr Greene (Ken Jeong) from building condos in his homeland. Why Norm (Rob Schneider) in particular? Well, that’s apparently because he has a gift of speaking with humans, like his grandpa, which therefore makes it easier for him to communicate with them.
That is but one of the ways we are told at the beginning how Norm is different from the rest of his fur-line family. In what is to the first in an undistinguishable stream of hyperkinetic sequences, Norm is seen trying to prove his ability to hunt seals, which unfortunately ends up demonstrating only that he is ‘softer than frozen yoghurt’. It isn’t so much the fact that ‘Norm’ plays in genre stereotypes, e.g. the one who can’t quite fit in with the rest of his kind, as how these stereotypes are recycled without any particular attempt to make them any less bland and convenient – so it is really no wonder that Norm’s animal-in-the-city tale plays like just another fish-out-of-the-water comedy.
Wall’s idea of turning the paper-thin storyline into kid-friendly entertainment is to keep everything moving at an almost breakneck pace, from start to finish. There is no intention to let any of the plot points or characters register, lest they actually develop into something concrete. And so, it doesn’t quite matter that the reason why Mr Greene’s marketing director Vera (Heather Graham) is doing Mr Greene’s evil bidding is so that her smart and conscientious young daughter can get into an elite school that Mr Greene is alum of, or even the fact that Norm’s grandfather (Colm Meaney) had previously made the same trip to try to persuade the humans from taking over their land.
Oh no, what does it matter when at the end of the day all these individual elements whether mildly original or borrowed shamelessly from other animated films before it seem to be thrown together with little attention paid to how it may all work together? In fact, Norm’s journey of self-discovery seems to matter less than his trio of furry lemming companions, bounding, biting and farting little rodents clearly modelled after the ‘Minions’ who are none too shy about relieving themselves in a fish tank in order to provide the obligatory kid-pleasing bathroom humour. They are cute no doubt, but little more than hyperactive distractions that ultimately add little to the story or for that matter the action.
And that in itself is a shame, because these squeaky-voiced, seemingly indestructible sidekicks are quite the cute lot. Wasted too is the capable voice cast – Schneider, Graham, Jeong, Bill Nighy as the wise mentor Socrates, and even Gabriel Iglesias as one of Mr Greene’s real-estate investors Pablo – who are given little else to do with their characters than to try to maintain an urgent harried voice to stay in pace with the relentlessly paced proceedings. Because so little care has been paid to telling a good story with relatable characters, you probably won’t even bother too about the well-intentioned message about protecting the Arctic from exploitative business interests that is as close to any purpose the whole endeavour has.
During a scene to shoot the commercial for the real-estate development, the spot’s director says: “Anything can be fixed in post [i.e., post-production]. In one of my movies, I wrote the plot in post.” That’s quite likely the attitude of the filmmakers here as well, who seem to think that as long as they throw together a whole bunch of characters in loud, frenetic fashion that they can get away with it at the end. Undemanding kids who missed their regular Saturday- morning cartoons for the week might not mind, but we suspect the tastes of today’s children – as well as most certainly their parents – are far ahead of what this dull and unimaginative animated adventure offers. Aptly, it seems, Norm belongs in the cold.
(Substituting plot and character for loud, frenetic action, this thoroughly uninspired animated adventure has no idea how to cobble together familiar elements from far superior other genre equivalents)
Review by Gabriel Chong