Friday, January 15, 2016


Opening this weekend:

Norm of the NorthThe title character is not your average polar bear. He’s able to talk to humans, for one thing, and he’s squeamish about hunting and eating seals—though the movie never makes clear what he has been eating up to this point.

When a greedy New York developer plans to build luxury homes in the Arctic, Norm and three lemming pals travel to the Big Apple to find a way to put a stop to it. He becomes a media star shilling for the developer’s project, just waiting for his popularity to peak so that he can use it to turn public opinion against the ridiculous scheme.

This animated kidflick has its heart in the right place, and it’s hard to completely dislike a movie that mocks eco-tourism and gratuitous development of environments that should remain pristine. But Norm of the North falls flat. It has a flicker of wit here and there, but overall, it just isn’t funny.

Much of the problem, as with so many of films of this sort, is that the story is overcomplicated, weighed down with obligatory formula elements, as if the makers were terrified to do without them. Why, for instance, did we need the clumsily introduced human heroine, who wants to send her gifted daughter to a private school but needs the developer’s endorsement? Did we need Norm’s grandfather bear, held captive in a cage in the basement of the developer’s office so that Norm can have somebody to rescue? And then there are those wacky lemmings, who are in absolutely no way imitative of the Minions.

Why, above all, must Norm be a misfit, struggling to be understood? Just for variety, why couldn’t the hero of one of these movies be brassy and confident, and unflappably foil his furious adversaries with silly slapstick and surreal gags? I seem to remember a carrot-wielding rabbit of this sort who had a pretty successful career as a cartoon hero.

Rob Schneider provides Norm’s voice, and there’s nothing very wrong with his work. The cast also includes such talent as Bill Nighy as a Freudian seagull, Ken Jeong as the villain, Colm Meany as the grandfather and even Salome Jens as a nasty councilwoman. This movie does not, I’m glad to say, represent the finest hour for any of them.

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