Short of embracing nihilism, it’s difficult to comprehend why Norm of the North exists. I saw this film in an empty theater, at least until a beleaguered couple stumbled in 20 minutes late with their two young daughters. These children are significant because the infant alternated between dozing and wailing loudly, and the elder actually made a pretty legitimate escape attempt before her mother caught on to her absence. To say that I sympathized deeply with these two children should give you some indication of my opinion of Norm of the North — I wanted to sleep, I wanted to cry and ultimately I just wanted to leave.
When the highlights of a of film’s E-list cast are Rob Schneider and Heather Graham, it could easily be assumed that said film would never be graced with a wide theatrical release. Even for the cinematic wasteland that is January, Norm should never have been seen beyond the greasy, Cheeto stained iPads of bored second-graders struggling through a long car ride. That Bill Nighy is featured as a seagull therapist in approximately two scenes of this film is all the evidence I need to know that someone, somewhere, has some pretty compelling dirt on him and was therefore able to extort from him a day’s work in a recording booth. Ken Jeong, as a former medical doctor, clearly violates his Hippocratic Oath with his cringe-inducing turn as the film’s pony-tailed villain, as his persistent hamming harmed not only my sanity for 90 minutes, but my faith in humanity for some time after. What drew these actors to this project? I may never know, but I can state with confidence that it could not have been the script.
For some inexplicable reason, Norm tells the story of a polar bear with an affinity for the human world, who is nevertheless concerned enough by the prospect of wealthy New Yorkers building pre-fab homes in his Arctic domain that he hitches a ride to the big city to put a stop to their scheme. Now, this set-up doesn’t make much sense even for a kid’s movie, but it gets lazier from there. Every cliche that has come to dominate lesser children’s fare is present, from an army of highly marketable nonverbal sidekicks (lemmings in this case, because why not) to a profusion of bathroom humor of all varieties. But easily the most baffling aspect of this script is its aspiration toward social consciousness. A tenuous connection is made between the arrival of the gentrifying homes and climate change, but this connection is never even cursorily developed. Jeong’s villain is named Greene, making his company Greene Homes, meaning that the ostensible adversary to the ice caps is directly associated with an environmentally sensitive housing movement. This was a confusing choice to my adult mind, so I can only imagine the perplexity it must cause among the film’s intended audience.
The only aspect of Norm more offensive than its inane and convoluted plot is its low-rent computer animation, the quality of which would have been unacceptable 10 years ago. The film’s depiction of New York looks like something out of a German Expressionist film, with bizarrely angled buildings defying all laws of physics and a distinct lack of spatial reasoning leading to a subtle sense of dread and disquiet in the viewer. During impromptu dance parties shoehorned into the plot in order to promote whatever popular songs the producers thought might appeal to the film’s target demographic, Schneider’s Norm alternates between motions so slight that you can almost see the underfunded animators napping at their workstation and violent seizures that would imply these same animators were actively trying to frighten the audience. In the words of a fellow reviewer, this film is visually “ugly.”
Despite all its shortcomings, I can say unequivocally that Norm of the North is a film that exists. It was completed, and is available for public consumption. If all you require of a movie-going experience is that you see something, anything, projected on a screen for an hour and a half, then Norm of the North might just be for you. All those with higher expectations should steer clear. Having now been victimized by a bear, Leonardo DiCaprio’s role in The Revenant has taken on a greater emotional resonance for me. I suspect that taking your children to that film might be less psychologically damaging than Norm of the North. Rated PG for mild rude humor and action.