When the word first reached me that a contender for the title of “worst animated film since Foodfight” had emerged from the shadows, I wondered: how does one even go about creating something on that level? Having finally watched it, I’m still not entirely certain how it happened but when the first step of the procedure is to cast Rob Schneider as a polar bear, you’re pretty much asking for it.
Trevor Wall’s Norm of the North only just hit theaters and it has garnered quite the rep already (possibly compensating for its relatively weak marketing), including people wondering if this piece of cinematic compost is even qualified for legitimate theater screenings as opposed to being straight-to-DVD or a TV movie on Jetix. I imagine the quality of both the animation and the comedic writing are equally large factors as to why people have that sentiment about the film’s true place, although some of us might make the case that it shouldn’t have been released at all.
The plot is a sort of “reversed Madagascar“, if you will, in the sense that the non-human protagonist leaves the wild and goes to visit New York City and not the other way around. In any case, it’s not as “good” as the Penguins of Madagascar spin-off, and not only because it concerns the wrong pole.
Norm (Schneider) is a polar bear from the Arctic circle who discovers that humans are thinking of moving into his home – should be warm enough up there by now anyway. His animal friends thus encourage him to go to the city and convince them (the humans) not to move there. This is me basically reciting word-for-word what’s said in the film itself – by a seagull voiced by Bill Nighy no less, because I guess he really has that little money left since his final time playing Davy Jones. On his epic quest for justice or whatever, Norm brings along three lemmings who for some reason are completely indestructible.
Conveniently able to communicate with humans, our hero makes his way to the concrete jungles of New York, where he ends up becoming a mascot for a company that’s threatening his homeland; something he decides to use to his advantage when saving it. The company is ruled by a clichéd corporate monster voiced by Ken Jeong, making me yearn for a villain as subtle as the one in The Lorax. There’s also Heather Graham as Vera, an employee at the company who ends up taking Norm’s side. One of the big laughs in the movie is when she and Norm are out for dinner together (ew), and Norm tries to have a seat on a wooden chair which promptly breaks as he does so. I can’t decide what’s more original; that scene or all the fart/bodily waste jokes.
I won’t be too harsh and claim that this is a film that reaches the abysmal level of such works as The Little Panda Fighter (Brazilian Kung-Fu Panda) or Little Cars (Brazilian Cars). But the animation truly is amazingly ugly at times. From the hideously rendered water effects, to the occasional human characters that are only a few steps above the nightmarish models from the aforementioned Foodfight, this is not an easy movie on the eyes. And the quality of the jokes isn’t really doing much for your other senses either. As I watched it, I could have sworn it even smelled and felt bad (I didn’t have time to caress the screen to confirm the latter, but I’m convinced all the same).
I haven’t done this since my review of Pixels, but something really has to be said about how other reviewers have tackled this film since it came out. A review on Rotten Tomatoes, where the movie has a whopping 0%, declared that Norm of the North is “so ill-conceived that it will insult the intelligence of a kindergartener”. Matt Priegge of Metro said that you know a film is in trouble “when even the fearless/shamelss Ken Jeong doesn’t appear to have done more than show up and collect his paycheck”.
And yes, several people have said that the film overall is so lame and eye-rolling in its general tone and sense of humour that you actually end up wishing it was a little more like Foodfight. A movie that’s entertainingly bad is at least fun to talk about. Norm of the North is just a series of a groan-inducing puns and references, with the occasional slap gag and snippet of dialogue that’s just characters describing things that are happening. There really isn’t much to say when something is this empty and boring.
Because of this, I’m not sure what to rate it. I usually give 0/5 to films or TV shows that are bad in outright fascinating ways, whether they are “so bad they’re good” or not. And although I have also given the rating to films that give me nothing but feelings of genuine hatred, such as Fifty Shades of Grey and Disaster Movie, Norm of the North isn’t quite that either. As I mentioned, it’s completely non-special and 100% boring. It’s not worth hating. And for this feat, I award the film a full score of 0.5/5! Congratulations, Schneider and company. You’ve earned it!
I now leave you with its trailer, not that you will want to see it, or even remember it for long afterwards if you do. Now that I’m back to reviewing movies again, I’m hoping 2016 will get a little bit better after a start like this. I’m seeing The Hateful Eight this weekend, and probably also Joy and The Revenant at some point after that. My guess is that they will be a tad superior to Norm of the North.
“Why be normal when you can be Norm?” – actual tagline.