Think of every trope associated with animated family movies and you’ll find them all in “Norm of the North,” a thoroughly uninspired story of a polar bear attempting to save his habitat from a hypocritical hippie seeking to develop condos in the Arctic.
Does “Norm of the North” focus on a protagonist who happens to be a furry creature? Yes (see above). Like most movie polar bears, Norm is terrible at hunting seals but very good at twerking.
Are there other even cuter creatures that serve as adorable comic relief? Yes. As Minions are to the “Despicable Me” movies, lemmings are to “Norm of the North.”
Does a lot of the film’s comedy rely on scatological humor? It does. Finally, a movie that’s brave enough to show what happens when cartoon lemmings pee into a fish tank.
Is there one scene that involves the characters gratuitously getting their groove on to contemporary pop songs? More than one. Come on, the people who made “Norm of the North” are no slouches. They even manage to shoehorn a legitimate social issue — climate change — into the movie’s plot in an effort to convince adults to take the movie semi-seriously.
What happens in “Norm of the North” is this: After learning of plans to build luxury real estate in the Arctic, where the ice is noticeably melting and cracking, Norm (voice of Rob Schneider) heads to New York to become the mascot for Greene Homes, the company behind the new development. But the evil yet Zen-like Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong) and his reluctant marketing chief (Heather Graham) don’t realize that Norm plans to transform from spokesman to crusader for leaving his homeland untouched. He also, incidentally, hopes to find his missing grandfather (Colm Meaney).
There are a lot of things about “Norm of the North” that don’t make sense. For starters: Grandpa says that only he and Norm can speak in a way that humans understand. But every other animal in the movie also speaks English, making their special communication abilities a bit confusing. What’s more, the idea that anyone would buy a condo in a remote section of the Arctic — where there appear to be zero amenities — is absurd. Will your 7-year-old pick up on any of this? Probably not. They’ll be too busy laughing at urinating lemmings (see above).
At times, director Trevor Wall and his three screenwriters almost own up to what a mess they’ve made. During a scene in which an attempt to shoot a commercial for Greene Homes goes awry, the commercial’s director says, “Anything can be fixed in post” (i.e., post-production). “In one of my movies, I wrote the plot in post!” It’s unclear whether this is a joke or a confession.
This much is clear: You and your kids could probably craft a richer, more exciting polar bear adventure using nothing but Klondike bar wrappers and the power of the imagination. That’s a power that is sadly missing from “Norm of the North.”
Chaney is a freelance writer.
PG. At area theaters. Contains mild rude humor and action. 93 minutes.