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"NORM OF THE NORTH"
(2016) (voices of Rob Schneider, Heather Graham) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Computer Animated Dramedy: A talking polar bear travels from the arctic to New York City in hopes of thwarting a real estate developer from building a residential development in his homeland.
PLOT:
Norm (voice of ROB SCHNEIDER) is a polar bear who lives in the Arctic, and since he's not very proficient at hunting, he's turned to entertaining human tourists who arrive to see him and other animals, including his small lemming friends. Despite being just one of two bears that can speak English and thus converse with humans -- the other being his grandfather (voice of COLM MEANEY) who hasn't been seen for years -- he isn't viewed seriously by most anyone. That is, except for a wise bird by the name of Socrates (voice of BILL NIGHY) who's grown increasingly concerned about human incursions into their lands.

That comes to a head when an actual house is dropped off there. It's a prototype by New York City real estate developer Mr. Greene (voice of KEN JEONG) who wants to turn the arctic into "Dubai on ice." He's sent his head of marketing, Vera (voice of HEATHER GRAHAM), there to oversee the filmmaking of one of his commercials. Despite his demanding and demeaning ways, Vera puts up with that in hopes that his connections will get her brainy daughter, Olympia (voice of MAYA KAY), into a prestigious and selective school.

Learning that she needs an actor to pull off a convincing job of portraying a polar bear in such a costume, Socrates convinces Norm to travel to New York to take on that part, all with the intention of putting a kibosh on Mr. Green's plan, something that doesn't sit well with the hyper developer.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Having just watched the first round of the NFL playoffs where the game taking place in Minneapolis featured a temperature of minus six and a wind-chill another twenty degrees or so the wrong direction, I once again wondered how people live there.

My wife grew up in the Twin Cities and we have plenty of friends who reside there. But considering the above and a one-week visit I had years ago where the "warmest" the temperate ever reached was minus fifteen, it's not for me, and you have to ponder how people before central heating ever survived with just a fireplace or wood stove.

Granted, the temps there are nothing near the extremes of those often experienced near the north or south poles, but not a lot of people live in those environs. Or want to. Yet, oddly enough, that's the catalyst of action that takes place in "Norm of the North" where a New York real estate developer wants to turn the arctic into "Dubai on ice."

Okay, this isn't an Oscar contender wannabe, so we'll cut it some slack when it comes to realism or lack thereof. Then again, it features a talking and singing polar bear who travels to New York to try to thwart said developer. Not to mention a bevy of pop songs. And related dancing. And fart and peeing jokes. Shockingly, I don't recall the obligatory blows to the male crotch that usually accompany such material.

Yes, this is a computer animated dramedy aimed at the little ones, and while paranoid adults may worry this is indoctrination style propaganda about global warming (it's not), they should be more concerned about this being yet another example of sub-par entertainment designed for the little ones.

Okay, to be fair, the young girl next to me -- looking to be around four or five -- seemed to enjoy the offering while running the gamut of emotions (dancing to the music, seeming bored at times, and genuinely worrying about the safety of certain characters near the end) as the nearly ninety minute story played out.

Everyone else, be those slightly older kids who've been weaned on mostly excellent Pixar films and others of their high caliber ilk, or especially adults, will likely find this mediocre at best and otherwise trying of one's patience as it lifts elements from other successful animated franchises in hopes of boosting what's otherwise a fairly boring and rote story penned by Daniel Altiere, Steven Altiere and Malcolm T. Goldman (with Trevor Wall directing from that).

The gist of the plot is as follows. Our title character (voiced without distinction by Rob Schneider) is horrible at hunting seals (it's never indicated how or what he thus eats), but is just one of two polar bears who speaks "human" (English to you and me).

Thus, when the developer (Ken Jeong voicing the antagonist who's a blowhard until he immediately caves into a trembling weenie) sends his underappreciated frontwoman (Heather Graham) to sell the notion of a real estate development in the wintry environs, Norm's wise best friend (Bill Nighy) encourages him to go to the "concrete jungle" to fix things. There, he's mistaken for an actor in a bear suit and thus infiltrates the inner workings of the developer, all while his mischievous and non-talking lemming friends provide the comic relief.

The computer animation is mediocre to not great (especially in certain shots where it looks downright clunky and cheap), the vocal work is unremarkable, and there just isn't anything special or interesting enough to engage anyone above the four or five-year-old level. While I'm glad I didn't have to watch this in some drive-in theater in the land of ten thousand frozen lakes in the winter, there's little other reason to be appreciative of what "Norm of the North" has to offer. It rates as a generous 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed January 9, 2016 / Posted January 15, 2016


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