One could dismiss this awful animated family flick as unbearable and leave it at that, but doing so wouldn’t explain why, even in an age of bad computer-produced kid flicks, it stands out. “Norm of the North” is so ill-conceived that it will insult the intelligence of a kindergartener.
With pandas apparently taken in another franchise, Norm (voiced by Rob Schneider) is a misfit polar bear that—in a thoroughly predictable fashion—is a poor hunter, letting any seal he happens to catch go after it flashes doe eyes at him. (What he’s subsisted on instead is never made clear.) He does have one unique quality—the ability to converse with humans, many of whom visit his Arctic home as tourists for whom he and the other denizens of the cold perform shows. (His specialty is an Arctic dance that wows the crowd.) But he conceals his linguistic skill until it inadvertently comes out during one tourist visit.
It will come in handy, however, when he has to take a trip to New York. Why? One might have expected a movie about a polar bear to focus on climate change as the imminent danger, but though it’s mentioned in passing the scripters have pushed it into the background to focus instead on the idiotic notion that a greedy entrepreneur named Greene (Ken Jing) is planning to turn the Pole into a condominium development. So advised by his friend, the wise old bird Socrates (Bill Nighy), Norm’s off to the Big Apple to scuttle the project, accompanied by three squeaky lemmings, this movie’s equivalent of minions.
And what does Norm do there? Why, he pretends to be an actor in a bear costume, in order to become the spokesman for Greene’s project. He plans to use his big premiere commercial to destroy it instead. Things don’t work out as planned, of course, but Norm eventually wins help from Greene’s harried assistant Vera (Heather Graham), who’s been obsequiously serving her boss in order to secure a recommendation to his alma mater for her precocious daughter Olympia (Maya Kay), a kid who’s only too aware of the dangers to the Arctic that Greene poses. Norm also finds his long-lost Grandpa (Colm Meaney), who can speak human too and whom Greene has been holding prisoner. Together they must prevent the first shipment of the prefab condominiums from reaching their home and taking root there. And waiting for him is lady bear Tamecia (Loretta Devine), the only supporter the misfit has ever had.
If all this seems haphazard, it is. The writers have tried to cram into their scenario as many tropes of kids’ films they can think of—the outcast who saves the day, the green advocacy, the friendship between species, and so on—and in the process they’ve come up with an unwieldy mess that adults will puzzle over but children whose age is still in the low single digits may find tolerable, especially since it’s leavened with lots of slapstick, some action sequences and a significant dose of potty humor, mostly supplied by the lemmings’ propensity for relieving themselves in any fish tank or fountain they happen upon. The fact that the animation is mediocre and the voice work bland—except for Jeong’s incredibly over-the-top screaming and Michael McElhatton’s bombastic turn as a Jon Lovitz “master thespian” style actor in a bear suit whom Norm enlists in his plans—probably won’t disturb them much either; after all, they’re accustomed to even worse stuff on the tube.
Is there anything good about “Norm of the North? Not much. Viewers of a certain age might get a kick out of hearing Salome Jens as the crooked politician Greene is in cahoots with, and McElhatton’s exuberance has a certain charm, even if he’s given remarkably little decent dialogue to work with. Otherwise, however, the tedium level is terribly high. So if you’re dragged to “Norm of the North” by your children, you’ll just have to grimace and bear it.