A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Norm of the North is an animated adventure about a polar bear, Norm (voiced by Rob Schneider), who can communicate with humans -- and so travels to New York to convince people not to build a proposed real-estate development in his Arctic home. Families familiar with movies like Happy Feet and Hoot will know right away to expect clear environmental themes ... as well as lots of crude potty jokes to make kids laugh. In addition to the gratuitous bathroom humor, which may bother some parents, there's also plenty of slapstick humor, a little bit of innuendo, a stereotypical joke based on the phrase "coming out," some potentially frightening sequences involving a tranquilizer gun, and an apparent death.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
NORM OF THE NORTH opens with the titular polar bear's failed attempt at a seal hunt. When he captures the seal instead of eating it, he reveals why he's not a killer: Norm (Rob Schneider) explains that he, like his wise grandpa, the "King of the Arctic" (Colm Meaney), is the rare polar bear gifted with the ability to speak "human." But his grandpa has been missing, and no one knows where he's gone. One day, while lurking on his grandfather's lands, Norm spots a home, which he discovers is a prototype for New York City real estate developer Mr. Greene's (Ken Jeong) proposed luxury-home project. When Norm's family and friends call him crazy for thinking humans would want to move to the Arctic, he and his three lemmings sidekicks sneak on a cargo ship headed back to New York. In Manhattan, the developer's assistant, Vera (Heather Graham), hires Norm (believing him to be an actor in genuine-fur costume) to play the proposed development's spokesperson to help it win public approval. As Norm gains popularity, he struggles with when to reveal his true identity and tell the world not to allow Greene's plan to hurt the Arctic.
Is it any good?
Families are better off skipping this underwhelming, potty-humor-filled mess and re-watching better eco-friendly themed films like Happy Feet and Hoot. Norm means well, of course, and there's nothing truly awful about it, but it's definitely one to stream or rent at home rather than pay full fare to see. Sadly, no amount of conservation messaging can outweigh the forgettable and dated animation, sub-par writing, and lowbrow humor (really, does anyone need to see lemmings peeing into a fish tank for that many seconds?).
One of the movie's most egregious problems is its generic use of New York. Although there's a shot of the Brooklyn Bridge and a couple of Times Square, it otherwise might as well have been set basically anywhere. Unlike Madagascar or Bee Movie, Norm doesn't mention real places or highlight well-known landmarks, giving no sense of setting other than a generic "insert skyscrapers and outdated yellow taxis" urban landscape. All of that said, the voice talent is decent, especially Jeong, who makes Greene sound appropriately smarmy as a faux zen developer (fake ponytail and all) capitalizing on the "green" trend -- when all he wants is the green in his pocket.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of talking-animal movies. How is Norm of the North different? Why do you think this one has only two animal characters that can speak to humans?
Why do you think so many kids' movies include potty humor? Is that the only way to make children laugh? What's the appeal?
Kids: Did any parts of the movie scare you? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
How does Norm compare to the similar film Happy Feet, which is also about an outsider who ends up saving his community's habitat?
Does the comedy muddle the movie's message, or is it still obvious?
- In theaters: January 15, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: April 19, 2016
- Cast: Heather Graham, Bill Nighy, Rob Schneider
- Director: Trevor Wall
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Wild Animals
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild rude humor and action
- Last updated: October 3, 2019
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