There will be a time in the near future when “Inside Out” and “Norm of the North” will be listed on your Netflix queue as animated films, but make no mistake they don’t belong in the same category. Where “Inside Out” is a happy serving of eye candy topped with a transcendent story, “Norm” seems to exist not as a story but simply as a vessel for cute characters.
Set in the Arctic, where Ivory Gulls speak with English accents, lemmings are indestructible and polar bears twerk (and speak English) for the amusement of tourists, the movie wraps an environmental message for kids human encroachment in the Arctic around a feel-good story that left me feeling bad.
Norm (voice of Rob Schneider) is an insecure polar bear who must remind himself that he has top of the Arctic food chain. “You’re an animal, “he says, “literally.” He’s timid polar—he’s a “a bear with too much care and not enough scare”—but when an evil New York developer named Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong) plans to build condos in his corner of the arctic he springs into action. Overhearing the builder’s associate Vera (Heather Graham) say she’s looking for a symbol of the arctic who can talk to potential customers, Norm hatches a plan. He stows away to New York City (with three lemming henchmen in tow) to become the Greene’s spokesbear. His idea is to “use the Arctic to save the Arctic.”
“Norm of the North” is as entertaining as you’d think a children’s cartoon starring Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo will be. It’s cut rate Saturday morning cartoon level animation—some scenes don’t even look fully rendered—that relies on kid-friendly characters rather than story or jokes. In other words, if “Inside Out” is the Ferrari of kids animation, sleek and well-made, “Norm of the North” is the Edsel.
It assumes children don’t need entertainment that works on any other level than, ”Where can I buy a cute stuffed Norm doll?” Despite its family friendly messages about friends, family and loyalty, the movie doesn’t try and disguise its cynical heart. At the spokesbear audition Vera gushes over Norm, “He’s cute and marketable, it’s perfect.” You can only imagine a similar conversation in the design phase for this movie. Also, is Norm’s description of Mr. Greene as “a creepy one note villain” dialogue from the script or a passage from the stage directions that accidentally made it into the film? It’s hard to know.
“Norm of the North” has little to recommend it. Padded with dance numbers—two in the first fifteen minutes alone—and montages, the best that can be said is that bad movies like this are important to remind us that the Pixar movies aren’t flukes.