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Friday, January 15, 2016

Movie Review: 'Norm of the North'

The secret behind the ripoff Norm of the North should have stayed buried in the Arctic.

Review by Matt Cummings

NOTE: This review contains spoilers.

In Director Trevor Wall's Norm of the North, an Arctic polar bear (voiced by Rob Schneider) and his fellow animals fight to retain control of their frozen wilderness, even as the evil developer Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong) attempts to do otherwise. Uncomfortable in his own massive frame, Norm is not a hunter, content to sing and dance as he learns why his grandfather (Colm Meany) suddenly disappeared years ago. When Norm arrives in New York on a massive cargo ship, he joins forces with Greene's unwilling assistant Vera (Heather Graham) and her daughter, who see Greene as a means to end to getting the girl into an exclusive school. Armed with his roar and secret ability to speak to humans, Norm seeks to upend Greene with his growing popularity and his indestructible but mute lemmings.

Norm of the North is one of the worst animated films I've ever seen. I generally consider The Nut Job and Turbo to be my least favorites, but in some ways Norm sets new lows by literally ripping off characters from the Madagascar franchise right down to The Penguins of Madagascar. The lemmings have large cute eyes, utilize ninja/Kung-Fu skills, and operate like an elite military force. Sounds like Mort, Skipper, and Rico to me in that order. But instead of developing these characters into new and appealing ways, we never become attached to paint-by-the-numbers network television portrayals, reduced to the lemmings farting and peeing in fish tanks. That high PH smell actually permeates the whole of this film, which features a poorly-selected voice cast, led by Schneider's Norm.

Norm of the North gives us nothing new, content to introduce characters we've seen before. There's the father who won't listen to Norm, his girlfriend who somehow sees through his inability to hunt and attaches herself gold-digger style to him, and the villain who's basically Dave the Octopus, his fluid movements and canned responses by Jeong falling flat. A master at voice-overs, Jeong does nothing to elevate Greene beyond a gross caricature of every animated comedy villain we've ever seen. Even when he breaks The Fourth Wall - asking himself if a one-note villain really makes for a great bad guy - it plays more like an admission that things aren't working than a funny wink at the camera. But the script by Daniel and Steven Altiere bothered us from the beginning, its made-for-television style and insert-gag-here styling seen a mile away.

The Altieres are best known for their disastrous run with Scooby Doo!; and with Norm of the North they don't do much better. They seem content to pick the low-hanging fruit of dick/fart jokes rather than spending time with Norm's family or bonding better with Vera's daughter. Graham is probably the strongest voice actor here (and that says a lot), because Schneider is downright terrible as Norm. He never imbues the bear with a personality (or a voice) that's different from Schneider's. Mark Hamill transformed The Joker because the two sounded nothing alike; but Schneider isn't prepared for such a transformation. He and the rest of the voice cast are there to record their sessions and collect their paychecks. Most of these failures fall squarely on Director Trevor Wall, who really crashes this disaster right into port. He hasn't a clue as to how to portray these characters in unique ways, opting perhaps for merchandising opportunities rather than telling an endearing warning about the environment. The result is almost painful to watch.

This is Lionsgate's first journey into theatrical animation, having made the very successful DVD's of Planet Hulk and Hulk Vs. But none of that magic is captured here, with the animation looking distinctly 2005. At its base, Norm of the North is filled with unlikable characters who never ingratiate themselves, which no child will find heartwarming. Our thinly-attended screening in what amounted to a closet told a lot of attendees just what Lionsgate thought of their film, content to slap it up on screens and move on to other commercially lucrative titles. Considering their track record with live-action, it leads one to wonder how Lionsgate could have ever approved such cinematic atrocity.

In the end, Lionsgate's feature debut is a disaster. Burdened with bad voice acting and literally ripping off an entire franchise, Norm of the North is edited like a made-for-television movie, complete with fade outs near film's end. You'll probably have more fun pointing out how many franchises will be suing Lionsgate than actually laughing at this joke of a film. But you won't have much time to MST 3000 this one, as it won't stick around for long. In my mind, that's the only humane thing to do.

Norm of the North is rated PG and has a runtime of 86 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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