One wishes "Norm of the North" had a blatant or
even a subversive political message, if only because it might start an argument
about the ways in which "Hollywood is trying to indoctrinate our kids with
liberal propaganda about climate change." That could be fun.
Hell, it would be fine if this movie took the opposite
route, pushing back against those "liberal Hollywood indoctrination
tactics" by giving us a movie that shows the actions of humankind having
absolutely no negative effects on the natural world. Either way, some people
would get angry about what the movie is saying—or, if one wants to put it in
terms of the modern knee-jerk reactionary approach to political discourse, what
the movie is pushing on our children.
Surely, some folks will still find a reason to be mad
about "Norm of the North," which is either too lazy or too worried about offending to take
any sort of stance. Some will point out that an evil real-estate magnate is
named "Greene," and they might cry, "The movie is suggesting
that sustainable-energy efforts are doing more harm than good." Others
might point to a throwaway joke in which the evil mogul says that his company's
popularity is "rising faster than ocean levels," and they might
whine, "The movie is saying that man-made climate change is a fact and is
having destructive consequences" (before complaining about the villain
being a businessman in the first place).
For once, I almost envy these people. It must be nice to
have such strong, go-to emotional reactions to anything that even slightly
veers toward the political, even in the case of a movie as dull and
intentionally uncommitted to any cause as this one. Maybe, though, we could
take this singular instance to come together, join hands and proclaim that this
movie's badness has nothing to do with politics—that its negative impact on
kids has nothing to do with agenda-pushing.
This is a bland, nearly incompetent animated movie that
assumes kids can only be entertained by the sights of a dancing polar bear, of
"cute and marketable" lemmings (the movie's own description) urinating
in an aquarium, and of a bird defecating on people. Can we all agree that
children are much smarter than this material believes them to be? Can we all
unite under the banner of rejecting movies aimed at kids that push the lowest
common denominator of humor because they figure children just need a brightly-colored
distraction for 90 minutes? Is that enough of a big-picture issue on which
people in any region of the political spectrum can agree?
The story is about Norm (voice of Rob Schneider), a polar
bear who can talk to humans and who would rather dance than hunt. He discovers
a model housing unit in his icy, Arctic home. To save the region from any potential
buyers, he sabotages a commercial shoot organized by Vera (voice of Heather
Graham), the head of marketing for Greene Homes, who later starts to have doubts
about the project. Norm then stows away in the house on its journey back to New
York City in order to stop Mr. Greene (voice of Ken Jeong) from his plan to
populate the Arctic with people.
Norm's plan is to pose as a method actor auditioning for
Greene's advertising campaign to have "the Arctic sell the Arctic"
(Greene instantly realizes Norm is not a man in a bear suit and then
conveniently forgets about it). Greene also has captured the bear's grandfather
(voice of Colm Meaney), so Norm also needs to rescue the old bear.
The quality of animation is—not to put too fine a point
on it—rather schlocky. The blocky character designs appear rough, as if the
artists simply threw a layer of textures on the first-draft geometrical models,
and the physicality of those characters looks unfinished, as their jerky movements
seem to skip a frame or three. (Think of the computer animation from a cinematic
sequence in a video game from the 1990s, and that's about the level this is.) It's
at least a good reminder that computer animation is not "easier" than
its traditional, hand-drawn counterpart.
The look of the movie does complement its content, which
is equally haphazard. "Norm of the North" doesn't care about the
environment, the animals of the Arctic, or even kids for that matter. It wants
to be "cute and marketable" as cheaply as possible.