It’s a good thing that apathy doesn’t produce carbon dioxide, because otherwise Norm Of The North would be responsible for single-handedly drowning legions of the cute Arctic creatures that star in this awkwardly assembled kids’ movie. As has become the norm for animated features, the voice cast features several recognizable celebrity names, like Rob Schneider as the eponymous polar bear, Heather Graham as a put-upon marketing chief/mom, and Ken Jeong as a broadly sketched villainous real-estate developer. There’s no real reason for any of them to be there, except that voice acting gigs are easy and tend to pay well.
But you can’t really blame the actors for that. Who wouldn’t prefer to spend a few hours in an air-conditioned booth instead of months on location away from friends and family? You can blame them, however, for reading the script and still agreeing to do the movie. Not since Bratz has this writer seen a screenplay so carelessly written, a sort of “Dear John” letter to Hollywood that goes out of its way to paint actors and directors as megalomaniacal idiots. It’s also extremely lazy writing. The bad one-liners in Norm Of The North could fill an entire review on their own, but here’s an example: At one point, one character encourages another by saying he’s not one of those “furry robots living in their ice cubicles obeying the rules,” which makes no sense considering there are no cubicles—nay, even buildings—in sight. None of the animals even have jobs; they just perform for tourists and eat each other, and get along quite well despite that latter fact.
The plot itself is equally maddening. Something is threatening the Arctic. Could it be… global warming? Nope, guess again. (Aside from a tossed-off joke most kids will miss entirely, this movie doesn’t acknowledge climate change, so never fear, Fox News types.) How about destruction of habitat by those cruise ships who let their passengers amble around unsupervised on glaciers within reach of wild animals? Nah, they’re fine. The culprit here is an unscrupulous developer, Mr. Greene (Jeong), who plans to build a gated community (and mall!) on said glacier, because houses don’t need more than a couple of inches of ice to support their weight. (This is not an assumption: There’s an underwater shot showing a model home from below, and a bear easily breaks through the ice and pops up right next to it.) As to why on Earth anyone would want to build homes on a fucking Arctic glacier, Vera (Graham) gets wi-fi when she goes up there to scout locations, and there’s already a “Polar Council” that must approve the development, so clearly the infrastructure is already in place.
Anyway, this is bad news for the animals, but they don’t know what to do because their king, Grandfather (Colm Meaney), is missing. So his bumbling grandson Norm (Schneider), who shares his elder’s gift for speaking human languages, hitches a ride to New York City so he can save his home. He does so by becoming the spokesperson for Greene’s company, so he can take the whole thing down from the inside. That’s spokesperson, not spokesbear, because everyone Norm meets thinks he’s an actor wearing a very realistic bear costume, which, considering he’s 8 feet tall and roars, is about as logical as the idea of a talking bear. (Several characters remark that he “even smells like a bear,” somehow not making the leap.) Norm is necessary to boost Greene’s approval rating, which is determined by a magical device that goes up every time Norm twerks on TV and/or protects a restaurant full of people from one of his boss’ violent outbursts. Along the way, he befriends Vera’s prodigal daughter, whose admission to a super-elite private school depends on the approval of Greene’s Arctic development scheme.
Much of the comic burden is carried by Norm’s friends the lemmings, clear Minions knockoffs who are available to burp, fart, and barf whenever a scene needs some punch-up. They also dance with our hero, who does his signature number, the “Arctic Shake,” to various insufferable contemporary pop hits at various points throughout the movie. The sequence was clearly animated once and dropped into different locations as needed, which, along with the out-of-the-box character and location design, implies that even the animators on this film put forth a minimum of effort. Yes, this is a movie for children. But using that as a justification for lazy work, as if kids are inherently too dumb to know the difference, isn’t just condescending. In a post-Pixar world, where audiences have become accustomed to quality animated family films, it’s a waste of money.