Movie Review: Norm of the North
By Ben Gruchow
January 20, 2016
The movie’s themes, to the degree that they are decipherable, are idiotic. I suppose it’s disingenuous to complain that the opportunity for commentary on or satire about unchecked land speculation and development is left unexplored; I feel no such hesitancy regarding the movie’s total failure to make any sense out of what it thinks it’s saying at all. Something is going on here that we’re supposed to pick up on at something like an adult level; this movie’s target audience is unlikely to get much out of a line like, “These weren’t for you peasants, anyway! They were for the one percent!”
What we end up with is a polar bear trying to save his remote and endangered Arctic homeland from an unscrupulous development company, headed up by a hipster caricature, with the company name and the individuals involved all circling around some implication of higher thought that’s never followed through on or even tangentially developed. At the same time, it feels way too intentional to be a mistake.
The movie’s biggest problem is that it’s brain-dead. Eagerly lining up to take its place in line should it at any point develop a pulse or awareness, though, is the fact that it’s a colossally ugly movie, on every technical front. Character design: The Arctic characters (Norm, the lemmings, and a few others) kinda-sorta get by on the fact that they’re representing something (anthropomorphic talking animals) we’ve never seen in real life. Virtually any other CGI or traditionally-animated feature film has done it better, but it’s a consolation. The human characters, though, are a whole different ball of wax. Mr. Greene, our antagonist, moves in a rubbery, pistoning way that suggests nobody bothered to weight the model’s limbs to suggest gravity or air resistance. And Vera’s daughter Olympia is a terrifying moppet with soulless Uncanny Valley expressionism; a moment toward the end of the film where she smiles conspiratorially with Norm is one to send shivers down the spine.
The movie’s just all wrong, in every way imaginable, to one degree or another. This is the type of film to screen when you want to illustrate how difficult it is to make a feature, and to impress the value of a disciplined and consistent showrunner. For there was clearly nobody at the wheel here; you can sense with each scene that the writers, the director, the producers, etc., were all intoxicated by the reality that they were making a for-real major motion picture, and that it was going to be showing in the very same theaters that the big guys use. That kind of enthusiasm is appropriate, provided that there’s a person at the helm who can direct it to the right target.
Here, it seems more like the filmmakers were so excited to make the movie that nobody had any energy left to expend on how to do anything remotely new or interesting with it; Daniel and Steven Altiere and Malcolm Goldman coughed up a screenplay, and perhaps director Trevor Wall decided to play it safe the first time around. Perhaps everyone involved lost touch with context and failed to realize that stale, boring material will stay that way even when written by newcomers to the industry. Perhaps everyone involved has a better second feature waiting for them - although there’s scant evidence in favor of that, considering how totally this one falls on its face. Norm of the North is as total a creative wipeout as a movie is likely to possibly have.