Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Norm Of The North (2016) - Movie Review

Sometimes, it can get kind of shocking what the standards for a mainstream release are in this country. I mean, considering the crap that I’ve seen since starting this blog (and even a little bit prior to that), I would’ve thought that it was open season in terms of cinematic releases. I know that I have often said that I am more than willing to be proven wrong on certain aspects, but this certainly ain’t one of them. To help showcase this, I’ll quickly get into three relatively recent releases. The first being Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon, which only got a DVD release over here because I’m guessing that featuring footage of actual porn made some of the censors a bit squeamish. Pansies. The second being the much derided Jem And The Holograms, which I think got a proper release over here but I have found barely any evidence to suggest so. Weird, considering that that is one of those lofted trainwrecks that I was legitimately looking forward to seeing in all its badness. The third release, you may have guessed by now, is what I’m talking about today: A film officially released in the U.S. last year, but only made it to our shores on DVD in the last few weeks. Is this a Don Jon or a Keith Lemon: The Film? Ugh… I already know the answer to that one, but let’s pretend I don’t and keep going.

The plot: In response to the increasing number of tourists coming to the North Pole, polar bear Norm (Rob Schneider) decides that something has to be done. Gifted with the ability to talk with humans, he makes his way to New York City where publicist Vera (Heather Graham) and building tycoon Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong) want him to be the public face of their new housing project for the Arctic. Norm, however, has other ideas.

I have no real beef with Rob Schneider as an actor. Maybe it’s because I’ve intentionally subjected myself to people who are far more annoying to see on screen, but his performance style never struck me as the kind to cause mass derision; this really isn’t an exception to that. Norm may be a bit of a happy-go-lucky blank slate, but Schneider plays the one note he’s given as best he or anyone could have probably managed. Alongside him is a cast of familiar voices that range from the decent (Bill Nighy as the feathered advisor Socrates) to the woefully underutilized (Colm Meaney as Norm’s grandpa) to the understandably annoying (Ken Jeong). Knowing how the VA game is run, seeing big-name voice talent like Jess Harnell and Debi Derryberry in the cast shouldn’t be too shocking but it’s still a little disappointing seeing them put their talents to sub-par material. Still don’t understand what the hell former late night talk show host Rove McManus is doing here, and that’s coming from someone in his home country; even we’re starting to forget who he is.

The animation, at first glance, is actually not all that bad. Assemblage Entertainment, the same company who worked on Blinky Bill The Movie, seem to have a good understanding on how to animate anthropomorphic animals in a cartoonish style and it works well in the initial Arctic scenes. Have to admit, I was honestly taken aback by how well the polar bear fur was realized on screen. Then we shift to the humans and… well, bear in mind that the other studio involved here, Splash Entertainment, is best known for working on shows in the Bratz franchise. Oh dear God, does that show because these are some freakish looking humans, even given the more child-friendly softening out they’ve gone through. Case in point, Councilwoman Klubeck (Salome Jens), who looks like Foodfight’s leftovers with how much her face seems to randomly jut out in awkward places.

And speaking of Foodfight, I’m guessing that some of the animators got a kick out of seeing Mr. Clipboard stilt-walk his way around because there’s definite traces of that in how Mr. Greene is animated. If he isn’t jolting around like an android manned by first-week trainees, he’s flashing about like something that escaped the Hotel Transylvania archives. I’d usually credit a film that can portray this kind of energy in its character movement, but considering it’s largely restricted to just him (not even any of the animals), it just sticks out like a wobbly splinter. And just in case the animal CGI is working too well for you, even that starts to slip before too long. I think that the next step in CGI 101 is that, once you can animate hair, you have to animate ‘wet’ hair because this is another in a long line of family films that for some reason struggle to make it look presentable.

No way to really sugar coat this point: This has got to be one of the worst scripts I’ve ever had the misfortune to hear. It’s that very specific kind of bad where it actively feels like every sentence uttered is trying to drill its way into your ears so that, whether you like it or not, you’ll remember that it happened. I’ve mentioned in the past that I have a certain physical revulsion to puns and other forms of weak wordplay, and this is Exhibits A to Letter That Hasn’t Officially Been Discovered By Humans Yet as to why it irks me so much. Comedic dialogue is bad enough when it’s just plain unfunny, and this film registers maybe one chuckle throughout its 80-or-so minutes of running time, but when it’s as predictable as this is, it feels even worse. If it’s not a painfully sewn-together set-up for a joke, it’s an audience-silencing punchline which you can tell that the writers think is clever but never even registers close to that area. It’s like someone took every bad one-liner from Mythbusters and stapled them together to create this script. Honestly, it’s kind of shocking that any sane human being would think that this is passable as things to hear people say in a film.

Getting away from the specific words being said, the plot is a real mess too. I’m not even going to get into the issue concerning polar tourism and the film’s woeful environmental message that makes FernGully feel like a Miyazaki production, since trying to spark up debate about the ethics behind that brand of tourism is far more than this film could ever deserve. Instead, I’m going to talk about how the pacing is fucking impossible in how badly it conveys pretty much every moment of the film. It seems like the more important a scene is supposed to be, the less the filmmakers are willing to spend time on it in favour of lemmings farting and pissing all over the place. Said lemmings are pretty much the biggest Minions rip-offs I’ve seen yet, and I rue the day that something else comes along that’s more blatant.

When the film finds it within itself to focus on something other than possible spin-off fodder, it just blazes through major plot points like a student cramming for their final test the night before. Norm’s reunion with his grandpa, his rise in popularity, Mr. Greene’s evil plotting, potential character death; you could make a drinking game by counting the minutes that these plotlines end up taking to resolve after they’re first brought up. Add to this a rich helping of Idiot Plot, including but not limited to how humanity is apparently so stupid that it can’t figure out when an actual Polar bear is in the same room as them, and this film’s dead reception is more than understandable come film’s end.

All in all, no longer do I think that last year’s Home holds the title for most inane dialogue in an animated kid’s film. The acting is mixed, bordering on just plain weak, the animation has a couple of decent instances but otherwise is way below average, and the writing is ear-scrapingly terrible, both in dialogue and in overall story. I’d say that I can see now why it didn’t get a regular release over here but, as I said before, that’s kind of a crapshoot anyway. It’s on DVD, so chances are that if you’re in the market for family-friendly content and you’re looking in the discount bins this tripe will no doubt be occupying, then you’ll stumble across far better material than this on your own.

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