We’re in the January doldrums, when the studios dump on the market the movies they have no great faith in. And just as 2015 went out with the whimper of The Good Dinosaur, 2016 comes in with an even more pathetic thud by the name of Norm of the North.
There are two differences between these duds. First, The Good Dinosaur evoked a feeling of Pixar-how-could-you, while Norm comes from a group of unknowns from whom (with good reason) nothing much was expected. And second, The Good Dinosaur at least had the stunning backgrounds and textured animation at which Pixar always excels. Norm of the North’s animation is cheesy and gimcrack; there are commercials on the Cartoon Network with more style and visual depth.
Norm is written by Daniel Altiere, Steven Altiere and Malcolm T. Goldman. This trio is to be congratulated for a certain economy: usually it takes a crew of at least six writers who didn’t collaborate and never met to concoct such a shapeless mess. The filmography of the two Altieres consists of a smattering of TV shows and direct-to-videos with titles like Scooby Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster and Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure. Goldman’s only credit is Norm, so his career has nowhere to go but up.
Director Trevor Wall has a résumé slightly fuller than Norm’s writers, but one that’s depressingly reminiscent of those for the crew behind The Good Dinosaur: art department work, animation and episode direction on various cartoon series stretching back to 1997. Like The Good Dinosaur’s writers and director, Wall was not ready for the big time; indeed, Norm was originally slated to go straight to video before someone at Lionsgate got the idea to divert it to a few thousand theaters on its way to the DVD bargain bin.
The movie’s hero is Norm (voice by Rob Schneider), a polar bear living above Canada’s Arctic Circle. Norm is supposedly the heir apparent to the title of King of the North, despite his inability to hunt the seals his species preys on.
When a movie crew shows up with a model home to shoot a commercial for Arctic condos, Norm sees the threat to his environment. With his little lemming pals (a trio of clowns jabbering in squeaky gibberish in a transparent attempt to siphon off the fan base of Despicable Me’s Minions), Norm decides to hitch a ride back to New York and confront the would-be despoiler of the Arctic, an evil developer named (with this movie’s idea of irony) Mr. Greene, and voiced by Ken Jeong as if he’s halfway through a three-day caffeine binge.
In New York, Norm is mistaken for an actor in a bear suit due to his ability to “speak human,” and he becomes a media celebrity.
As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up; I can scarcely believe that anybody did. Norm of the North has no real story, just a fuzzy environmentalist hook (polar bears!) and a mad rush of warmed-over ideas from slightly better movies (the lemming Minions, dance numbers like the penguins in Happy Feet) thrown at us in a desperate hope that something will stick.
Enough. With any luck, Norm of the North will be forgotten in two weeks. Personally, I’m starting now.