‘Norm of the North’
Director: Trevor Wall
Voices of: Rob Schneider, Heather Graham
1 Globe (out of 5)
Lurking below the pleasant facade of classy animation — your Pixars, your Dreamworks, your Aardmans — lies an underworld of bizarre, ghastly cut-rate animation few people beyond critics know exists. These deformed monstrosities, usually from precocious start-ups, occasionally volley for mainstream dough. You probably already forgot about “Legends of Oz,” a bizarre, hideous, oddly star-studded toon that successfully circumvented untold copyright laws to spring to misjudged life. Or there was “Hero of Color City,” starring Christina Ricci as a talking crayon. We journos saw them so you never need to know they happened.
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“Norm of the North” is one of those, but it’s not even inspired in its badness. It’s the first theatrical outing of tiny Splash Entertainment, heretofore known for cartoon TV versions of “Sabrina: The Teenage Witch” and “Care Bears.” It has the usual Mad Libs cast of affordable/available randos, including Rob Schneider, Heather Graham, Gabriel Iglesias and — buying a very nice summer home, we hope — Bill Nighy. The latter voices a snooty sea bird and is forced to make poop jokes and utter out-of-context lines like, “The lemmings told us what you’ve done.” But it is technically passable (at times), which is to say it isn’t ostentatiously hideous, even as its basic professionalism only stresses the consistent lack of creativity everywhere else.
Schneider voices Norm, a polar bear who can’t bring himself to feast upon the flesh of seals. There’s trouble abrewing in the Arctic, but it’s not global warming. It’s that greedy Americans, led by a ponytailed wealth monster (Ken Jeong), are trying to develop condos in one of the coldest parts of the world. That doesn’t make any sense, nor does that Norm, unlike his other Northern brethren, has the never-explained ability to speak human English. He hightails it to NYC to put a stop to it and, confused for a man doing a spot-on polar bear impersonation, becomes a viral star, because the Internet is popular in 2016.
Decent gags and dialogue could drag us over the copious logic patches, spread like landmines about its not-short-enough length. But the script supplies none, and neither do the voice actors. When even the fearless/shameless Jeong doesn’t appear to have done more than show up and collect his paycheck, you know the movie’s in trouble. When all else fails Norm twerks, which he does early and often.
At best the one-liners barely qualify as such; at one point Norm tries to crack that his Arctic home “has no furniture but it has great air conditioning,” you can practically hear crickets programmed into the soundtrack. More often than not the dialogue merely has characters saying out loud what they’re doing: “I’ve got to stop them!” “Kill that bear!” It’s a blue print for a movie that has never been filled in, and it makes one long for something like “Foodfight!”, the inexplicably expensive and barely released toon boasting Charlie Sheen and corporate mascots that looks like it was designed on a 1997 Windows program by your technophobe grandfather. That at least gives you something to work with, whereas “Norm” barely deserves a pun write-off, like calling it “un-bear-able.”
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge