I realize it's January, but last year at this time we had "Paddington" to relieve the blahs. Unfortunately, "Norm of the North" is no "Paddington!"
Norm (voiced by Rob Schneider) is a lovely polar bear who, like his grandfather, can speak to humans, but he's a hapless hunter. He is, however, a snappy dancer and entertains the occupants of the cruise ships which travel to his Arctic homeland. When evil billionaire developer, Mr. Greene (voiced by Ken Jeong), threatens his pristine existence by promoting luxury homes in the Arctic, Norm jumps into action to save his beloved frozen tundra.
If this sounds dull --- it is! It's also fantastical, but not in a good way. Norm hops on a freighter to New York City to save the day, and, honestly, the experience is worse than "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water".
Norm maneuvers around the Big Apple as if polar bears were its first inhabitants. None of this is amusing --- nor entertaining. His interactions with Vera (voiced by Heather Graham), the over-worked single mother employed by Greene, and her daughter Olympia (voiced by Maya Kay) are meant to be endearing and heartfelt, but even those attempts at lasting friendships fail --- miserably. Yes, Olympia loves Norm and understands his plight, but it isn't enough to make us really care.
Norm's sidekicks, three little lemmings, provide some comic relief --- except when the screenplay writers resort to flatulence and totally unnecessary bathroom humor! Will screenwriters ever realize that utilizing such nonsense to humor moviegoers doesn't work?
When children at the screening become restless halfway through the movie, you know you are watching a stinker. "Norm of he North"'s message to stop polluting our environments is lost in the effort.
Opinion: Don't Bother!
"Norm of the North" clearly is not on a par with the many superb animated films of 2015, so anyone who takes their kids to this should attend with lowered expectations. The young ones will likely glom onto the star of the show, voiced by the mild-mannered Rob Schneider. But the occasional clever references to other things, like the brief homage to "Titanic" with Norm's lemming sidekicks emulating the musicians of the doomed liner, will zoom way over their heads.
As for those lemmings, communicating with their grunts, groans and body function sounds, it feels like a substantial borrowing from "Minions" of recent film lore. And leave it to the lemmings to urinate into an aquarium, thus upholding the long-term friendship between Schneider and Adam Sandler, the undisputed king of bathroom humor.
Heather Graham voices Vera, the heroine of the film who defies her greedy real estate/mogul boss, Mr. Greene (voiced by Ken Jeong). Jeong's talents are wasted since we can't see his facial expressions, which are generally priceless in movies like the original "The Hangover", not to mention some of his other work. And Bill Nighy is Socrates, a wise bird of the Arctic.
The rest of the voice talent consists of lesser-known actors, which befits the relatively small budget ($18 million) of "Norm of the North". By comparison, "Inside Out", the Golden Globe winner and Oscar favorite, had a budget of $245 million.
One message here is that one's failings in life --- Norm is a lousy hunter --- can be overcome in other ways, as he manages to save his homeland from being overrun by human occupation, and the resultant pollution that will follow, in the form of homes built right on the Arctic ice.
Opinion: Mild Wait for DVD