Norm is a polar bear who can “speak human” which means he has to be kept away from tourists or he might freak them out. Tourists? Yes, in the world of Norm of the North it’s tourists which we need to be worried about in the Arctic, not climate change. The hamfisted environmental storyline of the movie is that an evil property magnate wants to install luxury houses in the Arctic for some reason, and the animals not being very happy about it. Norm in particular, a good natured but unusual outsider in his community who’s not very good at being a polar bear, wants to save the land so he can be redeemed and one day become King of the Arctic like his father.
Norm is played by voice from the past Rob Schneider who sounds like he’s having fun, and his human friend Vera is played by Heather Graham. Bill Nighy pops up as a bird called Socrates and Community‘s Ken Jeong is in fine manic form as the bad guy Mr. Greene. James Corden is in the UK version, playing an actor called Laurence. But in the same way the Minions were the true stars of Despicable Me, a trio of virtually voiceless lemmings are the real joy of Norm of the North. They extract laughs, muck around on screen and are just generally silly. And no one seems to mind. In fact all animals in the arctic are apparently good friends, even the ones which try to eat each other.
Norm of the North is very much a lower tier digital animation. While Pixar may spend literally years and years working on plots and screenplays, there is the sense that watching Norm of the North that the story and script has been utterly flung together in the hope it will work. It is completely full of holes and is narratively limp and illogical, even within the loose framework of the world it is set in. There is even a moment where the main bad guy Mr Greene references the fact it doesn’t make much sense, which would be fine if the whole film was being presented in the same way as something like Dangermouse, where the narrator points out from the beginning how daft it all is. But it isn’t. You kind of get the sense that trying to crowbar events in together the set-pieces became more important. Alas most of the set pieces themselves aren’t that impressive.
The lemmings are very cute and eminently marketable – I would be surprised if we don’t see them again. There are some nice gags, and a few of genuinely funny moments, but overall the film is not a huge success. It seems very odd to make a film about an environmental issue that doesn’t exist when there is a very real one that does.
Still, it is fitfully amusing and younger kids will probably love it.
Norm of the North is available for digital download from 11th July. DVD and Blu-Ray will be released on 18th July.