Movie Review: Norm of the North
By Ben Gruchow
January 20, 2016
Everyone involved with Norm of the North is in need of a time-out. It is a movie with just about nothing to its name besides the concrete reality of a running time. The screenplay is written by individuals seemingly unfamiliar with the concept of a joke or a plot point. The cast members involved are saddled with unspeakable dialogue, and our hearts go out to them as they try valiantly to make work exchanges like the following, between a human and a polar bear:
“Are they house-trained?!”
“Of course! They’ve been peeing in houses forever!”
The movie is very bad, yes. There is nothing edifying or educational you or anyone you love could possibly glean from seeing it. That’s somewhat less of a surprise than a foregone conclusion, and what’s more worth talking about is the unique way in which the movie is very bad. What we see here, throughout the entirety of an interminable 93-minute duration, is a general ignorance of cinematic storytelling that goes way beyond simple inexperience. This is certainly evident in every discipline that’s at the mercy of the production budget (here, it’s $18 million - pocket change for a CGI feature in 2016, and we could perhaps forgive some of the ghastly texturing, modeling, and rigging work on display here because of it), but it also shines through in those departments that don’t necessarily come with a dollar sign attached: framing, editing, writing, pacing, acting, tone, story.
That story, to give the proceedings more credit than they deserve, is about a loser of an Arctic polar bear that’s incapable of doing just about anything. We meet Norm (voiced by Rob Schneider) as he’s in the middle of explaining - to his would-be prey - that he’s unable to be a good hunter because of a day, long ago, when he realized he could speak English. Norm learns of a callous land developer (Ken Jeong) who plans on building homes for the ultra-rich in the bears’ homeland (indicating a serious lack of knowledge regarding the Arctic, housing, or both, but never mind). This endangers our protagonist’s homeland, so Norm travels to New York to prevent the developer from executing his plot. In the process, he befriends friendly company employee Vera (Heather Graham) and her eldritch abomination of a daughter, Olympia (Maya Kay). Accompanying Norm are three disgusting little lemming characters who are supposed to manifest some sort of comic relief. Oh, and he’s also looking for his long-lost grandfather.
This is deeply stupid stuff. There are all manner of reasons why Norm fails as a protagonist, but chief among them is the absence of motivation in any form. There’s no sense that he is anything but a vehicle for plot-advancing dialogue, and that’s a neat trick for a movie that gives him all sorts of ostensible reasons to be where he is at any given moment. The screenplay fails him, too, by never giving him any opportunity to build toward revelation or knowledge. Each scene begins and ends at the same place for the character, like a particularly weak sketch on a comedy show. And since every other character is a dubious beneficiary of this logic as well, the movie really has no choice of how to progress from one development to the next other than to flatly and explicitly acknowledge it, as if stating, “this is what we’re going to do next.” It’s incredibly enervating.