Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Norm of the North ★

Image result for norm of the north film stills

     Every so often on the film beat, there will come along a picture that is so blatantly bad that—not only does it test my patience as a critic—it requires one's unwavering sympathy. And "Norm of the North," a children's animated tale that features an inept and a rather cumbersome polar bear as its central protagonist, is that movie. Our pitiable title character is awkward, bubbleheaded and undeniably unprofitable, and comedian Rob Schneider lends his voice to this lead role which is about as demeaning as it is deplorable. (I could make a number of quips about Schneider's work here, but let's just say he's no Tom Hanks as Sheriff Woody.)

    It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that "Norm of the North" never stood a chance. I mean, its measly 18-million-dollar budget is hardly adequate when facing stiff competition from animated house juggernauts like Disney and Dreamworks; there was never going to be any mass-produced action figures or McDonald's promotional tie-ins. Add on a first-time director in Trevor Wall and a writing crew whose credits include two made-for-TV "Scooby Doo" live-action endeavors, and you may have an idea as to why "Norm of the North" fails to succeed in just about every facet of filmmaking.

    Norm is a peculiar polar bear with a natural gift that allows him to speak and understand "human." This, of course, makes Norm a social pariah, as many of the other Artic creatures cannot understand his love for twerking and American pop music. But his status among his peers is the least of his worries. You see, real estate conglomerate Greene Homes is on the verge of closing a deal that will help make the Artic America's latest colonization effort. Along with his three lovable lemming accomplices (which seem to be a cross between an Ewok and a Minion), Norm must make his way to New York City and infiltrate the evil corporation if he has any chance of saving his home and sparing the Artic from future twerking exhibitions.

    It would be unfair to give bad press to the film's visual incompetence (the computer-generated imagery on display seems to be outdated or just plain crummy) because it is the script, I think, that should shoulder most of the blame. Characters are dumbed down in an effort to make an even dumber plot more believable—I particularly feel bad for the leading female persona, Vera, who is naive, ignorant, and morally impaired—and the picture contains the worst kind of dramatic irony imaginable. (We know exactly what's going to happen to Norm before he does, and this predictable nature will have even the youngest of audiences hanging their heads in dismay.) Moreover, Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong) is certainly more eccentric than he is villainous, and the last half hour can simply be characterized as tearfully tedious.

    There are several instances in "Norm of the North" that truly make you wonder if it could all be more than just a poor example of children's entertainment. (Remarkably, a handful of ribs aimed at twenty-first-century society make it into the script, and although these clever jabs are offset by simplistic humor, it only adds to the above-mentioned puzzled state.) One scene, where our bumbling protagonist callously refers to American tourists as "intruders," even led me to believe that the picture was an allegorical political commentary with an anti-immigration message. Of course, this could have merely been a consequence of the movie's mundane makeup, as this tends to create these so-called woolgathering moments. Simply put, this is one film that does not deserve the coveted benefit of the doubt.

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