This Animated Film Is Too Chilly For A Warm Reception

Norm of the North posterNorm of the North is an animated film from Lionsgate.  Being that they are more known now for The Hunger Games, and previously rose to prominence on the backs of films such as Saw, this entry is definitely a head-scratcher as it is really out of the “Norm” for this studio, though the film itself will leave you a bit hungry…for substance; and feels as sliced up as one of Jigsaw’s victims.

The story is of a polar boar in the arctic named Norm (Rob Schneider) who doesn’t really fit in with his kind.  He is not a good hunter and he has the ability to speak human which puts him at odds with everyone except his grandfather (Colm Meany) who has the same gift and is the king of the arctic. It seems that tourists are coming up to the north pole more and more each year, and the animals of the arctic have obliged them by putting on “shows”.  Norm even contributes with his own dance moves, especially once he obtains an iPod from a tourist.

I know that this is animated and one must suspend reality and the realm of possibility when you already have talking animals, but this one doesn’t make any sense within its own story.

Fast forward, and Norm notices that there is a model home on their ice, placed there by Mr. Greene of Greene Homes (Ken Jeong), an evil corporate type who longs to film a commercial of this model home to entice investors to develop the arctic block.  When Norm encounters Mr. Greene’s assistant Vera (Heather Graham) at the commercial shoot, he hatches a plan with Socrates, a wise bird (voiced by the wonderful Bill Nighy in a largely wasted roll) to use his gift to go to New York and be the spokesperson for the arctic and defend their home from these corporate raiders.

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Along for the ride with Norm are 3 lemmings who are there to provide the typical comic relief in the vein of the squirrel from Ice Age, or even the Minions in the Despicable Me films.  They are cute, cuddly, and also crass with their constant farting and peeing in fish tanks, etc.  They are there to serve as Norm’s helpers, but ramp up the bathroom-related humor whenever the film feels like going for a cheap gag.

Norm is hired to be the spokesperson for the Greene Corporation to win public approval for the development project, acting like he is an actor in a bear costume working for them.  While Mr. Greene and Vera think that Norm is helping them get approval, he is really working to undermine them and flip public opinion away from the project so that the arctic will be left alone, and his home will be saved.

The animation is extremely uneven throughout the film, and feels very dated.  The opening sequence looks as if it were rendered with a 15-year old computer providing blurry spots of blue at the base where their ice sheet meets the ocean, instead of clearly defining waves, and tide.  At times, Norm’s hair looks very modern in terms of computer effect, and at others, the definition of his fur has lessened in a real noticeable way.  Incidentally, it is during a flashback scene towards the end that the animation is at its more clearly defined.  Lionsgate is still obviously getting its legs, animation-ly speaking, and so it would be unfair to compare them to Disney, Pixar, or their more closely related rival, Dreamworks Animation.  But in an age where kids see some of the best animation around through these company’s films, this film’s shortcomings are strikingly noticeable.

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The film presents itself as having a message, but is not quite clear what that message is.  Is it environmental in the sense that development would ruin the pristine nature of the arctic? Then why encourage tourism throughout by having the animals perform for the tourists?  Doesn’t this invite more people, and eventually development?  Are the concerns aimed at greedy corporations? No.  Despite showing Mr. Greene manipulating board members and public opinion to win approval for his development plan, only he is seen as evil while some of his investors, who are also corporate types, are given a pass.  This would be fine if the film was making the point that business is neither good or evil, but can be manipulated in the hands of a greedy individual, but the fact that some businessmen were good was only a part of the script because it moved the action along, not because it supported any point to support the writer’s intentions for this narrative. Yet it still seems to be preaching at someone, just without a clear message.

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Overall, the film presents itself as a cute, family-based film, and for the most part, this is true.  It will certainly appeal to the extremely younger crowd.  For kids who have grown up on any mainstream animated film, however, it will feel dated, and uneven….and cold.  And such a chilly, and cold film can’t truly expect to have much of a warm reception at the box office.  Norm might want to hibernate through the theatrical run of this film and not wake up again until it hits digital and video.